#WorldPhotoDay with Fotografiska’s Director of Exhibitions, Amanda Hajjar

#WorldPhotoDay with Fotografiska’s Director of Exhibitions, Amanda Hajjar

Fotografiska, New York City’s newest museum dedicated to photography, was founded in Stockholm in 2010 and opened its third location in a gorgeous landmark building in the Flatiron district in December 2019. Unlike others, the museum has no permanent collection, and instead develops its exhibitions with galleries, collectors, artists and private estates. Self-described as the largest photography museum in the world, Fotografiska encourages conversation and community to inspire a more conscious world. To learn more, The 10,000 spoke with Fotografiska’s Director of Exhibitions, Amanda Hajjar, about the museum and how it stays engaged with its audience during the global pandemic. 

You are Director of Exhibitions at Fotografiska. Describe your role and how Fotografiska continues to navigate showcasing exhibits despite being currently closed to the public.* 
As the Director of Exhibitions, I help to select what exhibitions are shown at the museum. When we decide what will be on view we think about what types of photography we want to show and which artists we want to select at a particular moment. Every exhibition is a collaborative effort with the artist.  I work closely with each photographer to mount the exhibition that they feel represents them the best. For example, this Spring we opened a solo exhibition of work by Julie Blackmon. Her photography practice focuses on daily life in the Midwest, so we installed turf inside the gallery space to make guests feel like they were really inhabiting the space of her work. 

COVID​ forced us to close our doors in March, so we had to think about other ways to keep our audience engaged without having a physical space. We launched our online platform called The Foto Sessions as a response. This platform includes previous programming, artist interviews, and behind-the-scenes looks into the exhibitions on view.

Fotografiska calls itself “no ordinary museum.” How is Fotografiska different from a typical museum? Does it focus on any genres? 
When people think of an art museum, there’s often an intimidation factor: white walls, having to whisper, and not being able to walk around with any drink except water – it’s a formal experience. At Fotografiska we take a completely different approach to focus on both the artist and guest experience. For the artists, we work with photographers to make their vision come to life. We aren’t limited to a static permanent collection or particular type of photography–we give equal footing to all genres including documentary, fashion, conceptual, and landscape photography. For our guests, we want everyone to feel welcome and create an atmosphere that is social and fun. We encourage visitors to browse the museum with a drink or coffee and chat openly with friends, any day of the week and into the evening hours. 

Three of the exhibitions on view when the museum reopens will be newly installed. Can you guide us through how each new exhibit was chosen and what viewers can expect to see? 
The three new exhibitions are by the artists Naima Green, Cooper & Gorfer and Martin Schoeller. Each of these exhibitions explore very different concepts through various mediums. Naima Green and Martin Schoeller are both New York exhibitions, meaning they won’t travel to other Fotografiska locations. Cooper & Gorfer will be shown at Fotografiska’s outposts in Stockholm and Tallinn in the future.

For Martin Schoeller, his exhibition Death Row Exonerees focuses on individuals who have been exonerated from Death Row for crimes they did not commit. His work raises questions about the justice system in the United States and the effect that the prison system has on people’s lives. With the protests and ongoing conversations about police brutality and racism in the United States, his exhibition touches topics that are particularly timely to the current moment.

Naima Green’s exhibition Brief & Drenching focuses on her community in New York City with a focus on the queer community as well as Black people and people of color. Her work creates a sense of belonging and provides a home for these communities. Naima’s work provides a lens into one of the many communities who call New York City home.

Cooper & Gorfer’s exhibition, Between These Folded Walls, Utopia, explores the lives of refugees from a more global point of view. The artist duo Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer create vivid portraits of young women who have been displaced by forced migration. These young women are photographed in beautiful, other worldly environments that explode with color and imagination. We’re excited to introduce the work of Cooper & Gorfer to an American audience who may not be as familiar with their practice.

Martin Schoeller’s Death Row Exonerees examines the unique and harrowing stories behind innocent people and the prison system at-large. What are some key takeaways you hope Schoeller’s work conveys to your visitors? 
Martin collaborated with Witness To Innocence on this body of work, an organization founded by death row exonerees whose mission is to abolish the death penalty. The exhibition focuses on the massive injustices that are inherent in the American justice system and why the United States still has the death penalty. For example, 171 people have been wrongfully convicted to death row. 

The stories from the exonerees and information in this exhibition bring up many questions to consider: How many innocent people has the United States executed? How many innocent people are currently on death row? Who does the death penalty ultimately serve? We hope by seeing the faces of the exonerees and listening to their stories, visitors will think about these questions on a deeper, moral level.

One of the exhibitions that will eventually be on display was created in partnership with VICE Media Group, featuring an array of artists from around the world. Can you tell us more about the curation process, and what differentiates it from other exhibitions? 
I worked with Elizabeth Renstrom, previously the Photo Editor at VICE, to select the artists in the VICE show. We wanted to select artists from across the globe who explore a range of themes and concepts. We also wanted artists that were working in an array of mediums, not just strictly photographic prints. We are so lucky to work with such an amazing and talented group of artists. The exhibition had to close shortly after opening so I’m excited to give visitors the opportunity to view and engage with the work. 

Are there any plans to develop virtual experiences to showcase the new exhibits, now that all museums including Fotografiska are likely to remain closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? 
When we closed in March we created an artist-focused virtual experience called Fotographers in Focus. This video series provides guests with an inside look at the creative process and daily lives under quarantine of the artists who were on view when we closed. Right now we’re focused on reopening as soon as we get the green light from the city. 

#WorldPhotoDay is August 19th. How does Fotografiska plan on marking the occasion or getting involved? 
We love that there’s a day to celebrate photography! This is what Fotografiska is all about, celebrating photography of all kinds, everyday. We’ll be doing something on social media to commemorate World Photography Day.

On a professional level, how does music impact or inform your work? Are you influenced by any specific artists / musicians?
Fotografiska is the first place that I’ve worked where there is a true dedication to embrace creativity in all of its forms- music being one of them. I enjoy listening to music on my own but on a professional level I was really impressed with the performance by Armo when we first opened in December. I’m looking forward to the day when we reopen and can once again welcome back our music programming on the 6th floor.

Cover Image: Naima Green, Pur•suit (detail), 2019. Image by Megan Madden
* Fotografiska New York will reopen to the public on August 28, 2020 with limited capacity and time-ticketed entry. Visit https://www.fotografiska.com/nyc/ to reserve tickets

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