The business of passing across from being a photographic exhibitor to being a selector is indeed most strange. Rigid criteria applied in producing and selecting one’s own work become transformed when one is caught up as part of the gallery apparatus, alongside others who attempt to chart photography. In accepting the responsibility of becoming a selector, I was aware of no specific constraints, no list of dos and don’ts to start out from, yet clearly as selectors we should not be seen as people entirely free to make real decisions about what to hang in any show, or as merely working from ‘personal’ preference. Such decisions have already partly been made through the understanding of the ground rules by those who entered their work, from which we then made our choices. Second, through forms of self-censorship we can quickly learn to navigate the network of structuring relationships when we enter the gallery system. And this two-way traffic, in asking for or conferring status or value upon work, comes not only through the validation of those working as selectors, organizers, managers and administrators within the gallery system, or from funding bodies, it also comes from an existent (though invisible) hierarchy of artists or photographers who have already jumped across a series of hurdles on their way to institutional, commercial or critical acclaim. These hurdles prescribe a certain obligatory competitiveness between artists for whichever few sites are on offer; open shows are perhaps introductory hurdles for work, which can thereby reach a wider audience. So, it must be said, the mapping of an open show, where all-comers can apparently offer their work for pleasure and scrutiny, is a very particular kind of democracy-one in which
certain Voices’ can be heard more clearly than perhaps others. And real problems arise when those who are producing work for very different reasons (for example social action or political photography groups, who are not necessarily looking for critical acclaim, or seeking to politicize the gallery system itself) find their work (now bereft of its context and currency) hanging randomly alongside work which is engaged in very different forms of struggle. Interestingly, though this year’s three selectors were ostensibly very different from each other, it soon became apparent to me that we in fact shared a common matrix of cultural expectations in the situation in which we found ourselves, although individually no doubt these would be articulated very differently. Looking at the entries, it began to feel rather like Christmas as I moved from one unwrapped pile of pictures to the next. And, like Christmas, it became apparent that there were many dutiful offerings and only occasionally did any of us catch a glimpse of something which excitingly called the whole ritual into question. The show we eventually chose represents some very different philosophies within a network of possibilities, which intersect here in order to give an indication of both the harmonics and polemics emerging within British photography at the moment. Put another way, for me there is a rather top-heavy mixture of those works which naturalize and render invisible as practice the history of photography, rather than those which have tried to foreground or denaturalize aspects of visual representation in a more ‘thinking’ way.