We live in a new age where accessibility to ideas and information is easier than ever. Jon Feinstein and Amani Olu play part in this accessibility through the sharing of new photography and contemporary artists. Known as the Humble Arts Foundation, Feinstein and Olu support and promote the development of new photography through digital exhibitions, publishing, grants, and more. Humble acts as an unlimited vessel for learning about the contemporary photography culture and allows opportunities for new photographers to gain exposure in the art world. I chatted with co-founder Jon Feinstein on what Humble Arts Foundation and living in the digital age means to him in order to share his experiences with others.
What inspired the creation of Humble Arts Foundation, and how have you seen your original ideas for it grow into fruition?
Jon Feinstein: We started Humble in 2005 while working together at Shutterstock (Where I still work). I had been there for a few months and Amani had just moved from Philadelphia where he ran B. Informed – a lifestyle, culture, and arts magazine, and I’d been photo editor for the off-color jewish pop culture magazine HEEB. Shutterstock’s CEO, Jon Oringer knew that we had similar interests in art photography, and was always super supportive of entrepreneurship and creative pursuits, so he introduced us. Amani and I bounced some ideas back and forth, and came up with a simple idea: group-show dot com. The idea took what we saw in standard gallery shows and put it online, and sought to break down the inaccessibility many artists felt towards the established art world. This hadn’t been done much at the time – there was Tim Barber’s Tiny Vices, a great site for discovering new photography, and FlakPhoto launched around the same time as we did. There were also a number of significant blogs generating conversations about new photography—the most prominent at the time being Alec Soth’s, but there weren’t many projects that mirrored or complemented the physical gallery experience. So, in a no-fills format, we produced online group shows of 24 photographers, one photo per photographer, contacting people we went to school with, and responded to strangers who emailed us about showing their work. We also contacted famous photographers whose work we admired, with hopes that exhibiting them with lesser known photographers could help to elevate those emerging photographers careers. For us, the online format offered an alternative to the perception that many blue-chip brick and mortar galleries were inaccessible if you did not have an insider connection. Since then, we’ve produced over 48 online exhibitions, produced two hardbound collections called “The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography,” offered multiple grants and organized numerous physical gallery exhibitions, all with the sole purpose of increasing exposure and opportunity for new voices in photography.
How would you identify your relationship with it now, having acted in so many efforts to promote it?
JF: The Internet and online communication has evolved incredibly since we started Humble. When we started, some of our now-favorite websites and online magazines for seeing and reading about photography didn’t exist – it was a much less crowded arena. But that crowding, that rapid sharing of ideas – as busy as it’s made photography, has for so many new voices to surface, for photographers to be able to get their work out there that much faster, to experiment with sharing new work. We’d slowed things down online for a couple years starting in 2011, but in 2013, we relaunched with quarterly theme-based exhibitions like our most recent group show Space Jamz, as well as weekly artist features and photographic discussion on our blog.
How have the artists you’ve shared in your initiative influenced you, either positively or negatively?
JF: The artists we’ve worked with have consistently helped to expand the way I see photography and its continuous potential for exploring new ideas. Sure, many ideas have been done to death, recycled, etc, but I’m continuously surprised at the capacity to reinterpret and offer something new. It’s one of the most exciting things about working with photographers.
Your HAF blog shares stories and information about publications, artists, and topics in contemporary art. How do you use this to expand the knowledge of photography to the public?
JF: I think we take a fairly straightforward approach. I try to be accessible in the way I write about photographers and their work, avoid art-speak as much as possible, and work closely with them to accurately represent their ideas.
What is the difference in sharing digital exhibitions as opposed to traditional exhibitions and how does this impact viewer experience?
JF: Digital is more immediate, it’s wider reaching, and it can often be more democratic. On the surface, it has a longer shelf life than a physical exhibition, but in many ways it can also be more fleeting. It’s easier to spend less time with work, to quickly scroll onto the next image, to appreciate images with less tactility than the physical space allows, but it’s also something you can return to riffle through, and re-share. I think both ways of exhibiting photography have their advantages and limitations.
What do you see is the greatest benefit to living in the digital age?
JF: As a curator and artist, the digital age has opened doors and created a wider access to sharing work and ideas than pre-digital. I remember hearing a story about how photographer Tim Davis first got recognized. As the story goes, like many artists, he didn’t have a trust fund or the familial connections to get him in the door of the art world, so he’d persistently approach galleries in person, portfolio in hand, until they gave him an appointment/looked at his work. While this process may still happen today, the digital/internet age has made access to the art world gatekeepers more open than the past. Most of the art world influencers’ contact information is readily available online, you can Tweet at them, interact with many of them on Facebook, Instagram, etc, and there are more portfolio reviews and open calls to get their attention than ever before. That is not to say that persistence isn’t needed, but the tools to get work seen by the right people are more accessible than a decade or two ago.
Open calls to digital exhibitions can be found online. See the current open call for Group Show 48: Winter Pictures.
Featured images are selected from HAF‘s online digital exhibitions. Selected artists include Amelia Bauer, Justin Hodges, Pamela Pecchio, Alexandra Lethbridge, Isolde Woudstra, and Oscar Henderson-Pennington.
Last modified: December 29, 2015