For the past two years, the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography (DCCP) has been working to expand and continue the importance of Photography in the city of Detroit. Having hosted several group and solo shows, the Center has been focusing on artists who choose to work in a lens based format (as they have recently staged a video exhibition this past August). Run by Gallery Directors Kyohei Abe and PD Rearick, the Center started about two years ago by Abe.
Originally operating from a small space in Pontiac, MI, last year they moved into a larger space in Detroit: on the main floor of The Russell Industrial, building #2. That the gallery is housed in the Russell seems to drive their mission, as it is one of many examples that new growth in the city is possible. It also offers a direct connection to many of the artists who live and work in Detroit, as well as businesses who, like the DCCP, find something vital and unique about the city that needs to be nurtured.
As a non-profit gallery, this sense of sustainability is visible in how the DCCP operates. Instead of choosing members based on how artists fit within the ideological and aesthetic framework of the gallery, members pay a small fee and help with openings and day to day events of running the gallery when they can. This nod to the collective approach garners a more democratic feel, as well as ensures that there is a core group of photographers who want to grow with the DCCP. Members also are able to participant in the DCCP’s annual Member’s Show, an event that is currently taking place until Oct. 26. As Kyohei Abe and PD Rearick explained, “The Member’s Show is our most important exhibition, because it highlights the people who have supported us from the beginning.”
Besides exhibitions, the DCCP also hosts a variety of photo-centric programming, from classes and workshops to tours and community outreach projects, ensuring that its relationship to Detroit has a positive and sustaining impact. As Rearick explains below, there is a lot that this young space offers.
Tom Friel: Why is it important to focus the gallery on Photography, and does this bleed into other lens based media or formats centered around multiples?
PD Rearick: There are unique opportunities not to be missed by being in Detroit at this time. In light of the artistic blossoming, it seemed relevant to ensure that photography had a way of contributing not just to its documentation, but as an expressive outlet as well. While it wasn’t always without representation, with the previous lack of a photo-centric gallery in the city, introducing a space that was not entirely for exhibition, but a resource center specifically for those using lens based media was the most appropriate conclusion. For Detroit photographers, it’s a space where people can show frequently and collaborate or discuss topics they relate to. Regionally, it’s becoming a destination for photography with its proximity to half a dozen big cities with their own respective programs. Nationally, the DCCP is one of a few year round, photo-specific hubs for the display and development of work that is being created. Internationally, it’s becoming recognized as something more than just the collection of cliché photos, but a place sought out to participate with. Detroit is largely known more for accommodating artists with the tools and space to make their art and having the facilities to do so, and regarded less as a place for exhibition, so this was a good opportunity for us to create an environment that will combine both ends of the spectrum. It’s important to have a place to make the work but also to have a show space to allow the awesome new work to be shared. Not to mention that photography is one of the fastest developing technologies for artists and the public, and so there should be a place where people can keep up with the developments and results.
TF: How has Detroit’s relationship to photography changed in its history, and how do you position the gallery in its future?
PDR: Technology has changed everything. It used to be that people specialized in documenting the subjects they were most interested in, but now everyone is a photographer, or at least carries a camera with them. The ubiquity of photography has shown that everything gets documented – the phone is the new stack of family pictures in the wallet. Documenting and sharing stories has never been easier, and as a result there is a rich collection of narratives available to us. Self published books, beautifully printed portfolios, and advanced video footage allow stories that haven’t been told before to achieve recognition. When it’s recorded, it shows that people want to pay attention and really do care about something that affects them personally. By being a “contemporary photography” space, these ideas and their unique sense of urgency are what we address and embrace. It’s a good way to encourage that a snapshot is really the first step to a classic. For those who have a magnificent handle on the craft it’s the perfect arena to put it on display. For Detroit specifically, our center can be a great reception place for inner city dialogue while still bringing in new ideas from all points. The goal is to be photo-centric since in most cases new inspiration from outside sources can be a great encouragement to the movements happening here, just as the work produced in Detroit is capturing the attention of enthusiasts all over the world already.
TF: The gallery has a very community oriented atmosphere, in many ways existing between gallery, school and networking hub. How does curatorial practice fit into the inclusive nature of the gallery and mission?
PDR: The DCCP fits right in with the Detroit work ethic in that we try to do a little bit of everything, because we want so many of these ideas to succeed. And since we have our fingers in a lot of pies, the curatorial side becomes a challenge to address all those needs and wants. Now that we are situation in a better venue we’ve set up an annual schedule of shows that take place about every 6 weeks. Typically there will be a couple call-for-entry competitive shows per year, a couple specialty exhibits chosen by the director, an annual Members Show, sometimes a student exhibition, and a presentation focused on video or projected work, while still being receptive to proposed ideas. Then, while the shows are on display we have workshops, professional practice seminars, portfolio reviews, field trips, and special receptions that invite guests to see the work as well as use the space. With this setup we are able to exhibit work by Detroit photographers, national and international emerging artists, as well as students and professionals in the field that are enthusiastic about sharing their skills. In the future, we may even try to develop themes for a year or season and develop the programming to address those subjects. What is equally as important as the quality of the work is to ensure that we keep people continually interested in the variety, to extend an invitation with the expectation that it won’t be quite the same as last time. It’s empowering to know that as a young space we have the liberty to make those kinds of shifts to see what will work best, and to be open to receiving honest feedback, whether or not it does.
TF: Given Photography’s history as a commercial, documentary and fine art medium, is it important to favor one of these positions? How do you see them in relationship with digital processes and social media? I’m thinking of how commercial art, pop culture and high art tend to change roles — indeed, the appearance of role reversal often garners attention; or how anyone can be a documenter with a cell phone.
PDR: Similar to the previous question, the setup has allowed us to touch all areas of photography. We would be making a big mistake to ignore the shifts photography has and will be taking. Since its invention, photography has changed incredibly frequently and drastically in it’s short history, and there is no sign of it’s slowing. So really, by exhibiting the photography of what’s happening right here and now, and doing that consistently, we really are documenting a history of the art form. Being contemporary means remaining true to the present, since it’s only a short matter of time before the future technology arrives and changes the presentation on us again. There will be a day too while everyone’s using their virtuo-cyclopsioscope that someone will look at a cell phone image and remark, “Oh that filter style was used a lot in the 20-teens.” It just may be hard to admit it now since we’re pretty saturated with images, but it will be important to note the evident shift in styles.
There is room for the technology, and there should be a place for the images being created with it to be received other than on a monitor or phone screen, especially when the translation happens into real print where maybe it was never intended to be viewed in the first place. We are the type of center that teaches people how to take the camera on their phone and make consistently good shots with a lighting seminar instead of just winging it, or how to take that fancy DSLR off of automatic mode. The DCCP is also the exhibition space for large-scale prints that couldn’t be made before but are now impossibly beautiful due to the advanced printer and scanner technology. And of course we still highlight the glorious gelatin silver, even tin-type and alternative processes for those darkroom chemists with the capabilities and patience to make a piece completely one of a kind. When those worlds collide, education and enthusiasm happens, which is most likely why we don’t limit ourselves to a singular brand of photography.
TF: Do you partner with other galleries or institutions when exhibiting work or artists?
PDR: Absolutely, we have partnered with quite a number of artists and institutions. Really, every show is a cooperative effort. The first show we held in the new space at the Russell Industrial was a projection show exchanged between the DCCP, Gallery 44 in Toronto, Helskinki, and China; coordinated by Gallery 44. In the last year we were proud to host the study-print show of students enrolled in the Excel Photography Program through Focus:Hope. In early September there was a special field trip to the DIA, where Nancy Barr, the head of the photographic and print collections, gave a tour through the Patti Smith photography exhibit. Currently there is an internship opportunity being developed between the local colleges with hopes that a relationship can maintained between faculty and students to build awareness of the DCCP while benefiting the student’s academic course. With the many workshops and seminars it will be great to continually welcome local talents and/or visit their studio spaces as an organized field trip.
The Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography hosts its annual Member Show, “Sum of Parts” from Sept. 21 – Oct. 26. visit their website: <“http://detroitccp.org”> for more gallery hours, as well as upcoming events.