An early pioneer of the online photo community, Andy Adams, founder of FlakPhoto, holds fast that the internet is not only an ideal venue for experiencing contemporary photography, but also one of the best tools for photographers to gain exposure and advance their careers. A serial optimist, from his tweets to Facebook posts, to talks about the future of photography, it would appear that Adams' every breath moves to support new image makers. This past month, Andy curated The FlakPhoto Midwest Print Show, his first brick and mortar exhibitions at the Madison Public Library in Madison Wisconsin, with a focus on photographers of the American Midwest. We "sat down" (virtually of course) with Andy to get his insights on photography on and offline, and have interspersed some of our favorite images from the show, which despite closing tomorrow, will live on, online.
How did the Midwest photography exhibition come about?
A while ago I learned that the Society for Photographic Education Midwest Conference was going to be hosted in Madison, Wisconsin — where I live. The Wisconsin Book Festival landed on the same weekend in October 2014 — this annual event is very popular and it brings lots of people downtown every year. Last fall, the Madison Public Library unveiled a $30 million architectural renovation that included a sparkling new gallery space — and an invitation to organize a FlakPhoto show there. The Wisconsin Book Festival’s headquarters are inside the Central Library adjacent to the Diane Endres Ballweg Gallery and just a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus where the SPE conference would be held. There’s never been a huge photography scene here and I knew that the conference/festival weekend would be an occasion for lots of Midwest creatives to gather in that space and look at pictures together. I’ve often lamented that there aren’t more independently produced photo/arts exhibitions here — so needed to do this.
What sparked your interest in specifically showing Midwest photographers?
For the past few years my projects have emphasized digital exhibitions designed for global, web-based audiences but I’ve never produced anything locally and I’m interested in growing the photo community where I live. Like a lot of people, I’ve been inspired by the way social media connects the international photography community — digital technologies make it easy to know about what everyone is doing, everywhere, all the time. At some point I realized that I knew more about what was happening photographically in London and New York and Paris than I did in Iowa or Kansas City or Milwaukee. That motivated me to use the Web to learn more about the creative people making pictures in this part of the world. The SPE Conference is a regional event — one designed to connect image makers from around the American Midwest — so a show that highlighted talent from this place made a lot of sense.
You're largely recognized as an online curator but you've actually curated several brick and mortar exhibitions in the past. How is this exhibition unique?
Well, it’s a very personal project. I’ve juried a number of print exhibitions in partnership with traditional photography organizations but this is my first independently produced show and the first time I’ve staged a photography event in Wisconsin. From the beginning my goal has been to highlight the diversity of work being produced in this part of the world and I’ve done my best to highlight a cross-section of photographers from around the region. This isn’t a definitive survey — it’s a personal selection of photographers I admire.
You're launching an exhibition website as the physical show comes down. Why is this important?
My previous museum exhibitions have been web-based projects that emphasize the image as the primary photographic experience. The Midwest Print Show website complements a physical exhibition that stands on its own by expanding on the experience — gallery spectators were able to access the site on their mobile devices to read photographer biographies and learn more about the artists by linking to their websites while in the presence of the prints. Now that the show is closing the website functions as a record of the past and a resource for the future. This project is/was a true hybrid exhibition — it lives simultaneously on and offline.
You have a background in online marketing. Does this impact your work with FlakPhoto and the photography community?
I suppose so. I’m as fascinated with digital communications as I am with photographic culture — understanding how those forms come together is at the heart of my creative work.
Tell us more about the BUBBLER — who are they and how did the collaboration come about?
The BUBBLER is a wonderful community arts & maker space that’s powered by the Madison Public Library. Trent Miller, who runs the program, directs the library’s Diane Endres Ballweg Gallery exhibition program. He and I became friends and he invited me to collaborate on a FlakPhoto show. The BUBBLER’s mission is focused on producing art out of anything and we worked together to stage a show that aligned with that vision. The Midwest Print Show is very much an extension of the BUBBLER’s DIY philosophy: we kept things simple by showing unframed prints. I decided early on that I wanted our photographers to produce their own prints — that the show should feature the uniqueness of each of their particular printing styles and paper preferences. In the end, that added an exciting element that emphasized the magical thingness of photography — which is more vital today than ever before.
Flak used to be one of a few online venues for showing photography. Now there are hundreds. Does this impact the work you do?
Probably. It’s taken traditional photography institutions a decade to understand how to use the Internet to do their work. I saw the Web’s potential early on but it’s taken me 10 years to stage a FlakPhoto print show. I’m always going to be interested in building a better website but I’ve got the bug for producing IRL exhibitions now. The hybrid territory between analog/digital is still uncharted territory I plan to explore.
What is most exciting about photography for you right now?
Hands down, it’s Instagram! Mobile photography is fascinating and fun — it’s gotten me excited about making my own pictures again and there’s something wonderful about looking at all of these little illuminated images in the palm of my hand. I’d like to do a mobile photography show at some point — or a small print exhibition. Or both. Someday...
Bio: Andy Adams (b. 1978) is an independent producer + publisher whose work blends aspects of digital communication, online audience engagement, and web-based creative collaboration to explore current ideas in photography and visual media. He is the editor of FlakPhoto, a website that promotes the discovery of photographic image-makers from around the world. In his spare time he hosts the FlakPhotoNetwork, an online community focused on conversations about photo/arts culture.