The art world inevitably revolves around galleries as they represent artists worldwide and create a market for their works. A gallerist's job is far from easy and straightforward, especially if the gallery focuses on a specific medium.
This is certainly the case for galleries exclusively dedicated to exhibiting photography, an art form that is still trying to make its way among the giants of painting and sculpture. But how much do we know about it? How do you manage a gallery in such a variegated ecosystem? Is there a profitable market to operate in? We asked the founder of the Albumen Gallery, Stephan Schmid, who explained the advantages and disadvantages of his decision and how his work is progressing in this sector.
Albumen Gallery is a London based Fine Art Photography Dealer and Gallery Project, which was set up to provide through its online gallery space an international platform for original photographic art. From its inception, Albumen Gallery has been pioneering and expanding the online exhibition medium and their regular programme of curated online exhibitions is internationally recognised for their accessibility and artistic interest. Actively utilising its online presence enables Albumen Gallery to extend its reach in introducing new emerging artists and to a wider international audience as well as discovering work by more established artists.
Fig. 1. Nevzat Yldirim, Orphan Girl, Afghanistan, 2014.
SB: What prompted the decision to open a gallery exclusively dedicated to exhibiting photography?
SS: Apart from my lifelong interest in photography there was the consideration of both focus and range. Photography is such a rich medium covering such a multitude of ways of looking at the world - ranging from documentary photography to art photography - and anything in between.
Focussing the gallery on photography was borne out the richness of the medium.
SB: Do you think the work you are doing with the Albumen Gallery is contributing to the enhancement of the value of photographic art in the online market? What improvements have you witnessed in the last few years?
SS: Online shouldn't stand between you and experiencing the print holding it in your hands. Online connects a wider range of photography lovers and can actually get you closer to getting your hands on prints you might not see otherwise. Distances collapse, horizons widen - both for the collector and for the photographer reaching a wider audience at an earlier stage in their career.
All of this of course only works provided alongside and leveraging its online presence the gallery works hard to develop trust building personal relationships with customers be it locally face to face or - accelerated by the pandemic - via Zoom or suchlike.
The most important art market trend in recent years for us is the - year by year- growing number of art purchases made online. In order to leverage this trend, it is essential for galleries like us to firmly couple our online presence with an emphasis on the gallery/customer relationship built on offering professional advice and service.
Fig. 2. Niklas Soestmeyer, Berlin Nights, 2020.
SB: What are the pros and cons of employing the online exhibition medium? What do the photographers you represent think about it?
SS: Accessibility and reach are a big pro. Also, for a lot of people, who are attracted by photography and are maybe considering starting collecting, but have no prior experience there are no intimidating barriers to visiting the gallery.
The context environment of an online exhibition also provides many opportunities for offering the visitor content rich information at their fingertips.
A good online exhibition is one that is the result of the same degree of curation and preparation as would go into creating a 'physical' exhibition. Failing that you fall into the trap of jus knocking up shallow screen show.
In conjunction with all other gallery activities the photographers appreciate the accessibility and reach online exhibitions give their work.
Albumen Gallery online exhibitions are events with all the preparation and PR work you would expect form a gallery. To mark the event and to create a more lasting impact most of our online exhibitions a are accompanied by a photobook featuring all photos shown in the exhibition.
SB: How do you choose the artists that the Albumen Gallery represents?
SS: Rule number one is 'follow your instincts'. Do these photos grab me? Once that litmus test is passed, of course some other criteria do apply. Is there a creative consistency in his/her work? Does their work reflect an ongoing dynamic creative quest? Getting to know the photographer is very important for building a rewarding relationship between gallery and artist.
Fig. 3. Diego Echevers Torrez, La sueña de la China, 2018.
SB: What themes do you explore in the gallery’s exhibitions? Are they linked to tradition and place or do you explore more varied and contemporary topics?
SS: Generally, our exhibitions are a result of new work by the photographers we work with. By definition that can cover quite a wide range of themes and topics. For instance, Robert Conrad is an architecture photographer. His images of - often abandoned and derelict - buildings and sites explore how we relate to the past in our lives surrounded by architectural traces history leaves behind. Robert Conrad's exhibition Memories of the Wall (2019) revisited and explored the most memorable symbol of the Cold War - the Berlin Wall - not only above ground but also below ground incorporating his photos of the so-called East Berlin underground 'Ghost Stations'.
Then there is the Bolivian photographer Diego Echevers Torrez. His chosen medium is analogue photography, which he deploys to portrait, capture and - at least in his images - preserve the traditions of his native Bolivia. His recent exhibition Cocani paid tribute the culture and traditions of the Cocani by capturing their cultural memory, their voice and their faces projecting the struggle of people anchored in the history of the mines of a city that little by little is forgetting its origins.
SB: Which current art world trend is the Albumen Gallery following?
SS: I don't see Albumen Gallery as a vehicle for certain trends chasing other trends. Our work is more informed by the gallery's own centre of gravity, which is constantly evolving as a result of the creative work of the photographers associated with the gallery.
Fig. 4. Robert Conrad, Former GDR Military Uniforms Supply Depot, Bernau, 2017.
That said, there are certain aspects of the medium which I do believe set it apart from other visual arts and which never cease to fascinate me. I am thinking of the fluidity of the medium - the wide range from realistic depiction to abstract structures. Unique to photography, these opposite ways of looking and showing can be simultaneously deployed creating subtle vibrant dynamics in a photo.
Another such aspect is the cross-fertilisation of traditionally separate photographic genres like documentary/photojournalism and the aesthetics of art photography. Nevzat Yildirim's project After the Conflict (online exhibition 2019) is a good example.
SB: What is in the future of the Albumen Gallery? What are the next projects?
SS: One of our next projects is firmly based in the physical world. Albumen Gallery will be at Photo London in September with our own exhibition booth. We're tremendously looking forward to this opportunity connecting with customers and friends and meeting new ones.
Building on the growing series of Albumen Gallery photobooks we are planning to expand and grow the Albumen Publishing arm of the gallery introducing photobooks by a variety or photographers not necessarily represented by the gallery.
Work by a number of photographers represented by Albumen Gallery is increasingly attracting interest from Interior Designers. The crossover of collectors/collections and photographic art chosen in the context of designing interiors offers interesting opportunities for a gallery like us.
Fig. 5. Stephan Schmid, founder of Albumen Gallery.
Photographers featured in this Article
Robert Conrad - Website