Erin Barnett is the Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the International Center of Photography in New York.
Barnett is one of the five judges of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards’ Professional competition, and she wants to be surprised with fresh images of interesting subjects.
The Awards’ Professional competition recognizes outstanding bodies of work (between 5-10 images) and is free for everyone to enter. You don't need to be a "professional" photographer to enter, you just need to have a great series of work!
How did you become involved in photography?
I took an art class with Patricia Matthews at Oberlin College that changed my world. I was suddenly aware of the power of an image to both document and manipulate the truth. The most contemporary of media, it shapes the way we see ourselves and the world around us.
You are the Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the International Center of Photography. What are you currently working on?
I am co-curating a portraiture show from ICP’s collection. The exhibition will cover the history of the medium, from daguerreotypes to contemporary large-scale color works. As more and more people take pictures, especially selfies, it’s important to investigate the history of one of the medium’s favorite genres. How do we present ourselves for the camera? What is the relationship between the sitter and the subject and how does that influence the resulting image? Who is deemed worthy of commemoration and who is not?
You have organized, curated, and co-curated over 30 exhibitions and publications. What has been the process for each?
Each one is different! Many of the shows I worked on were derived from the permanent collection so each is based on a group of images that suggest a great story.
How does the very first idea develop into the final one?
I am interested in exploring untold stories, often by unknown or under-recognized photographers. I look at a lot of photographs, I read a lot, and then I look at more photographs and try to find a coherent story that needs telling. Since I often work with the historical material, I try to make it relevant to contemporary audiences, especially through wall labels.
What exhibition or event is on your “must-see” list this year?
Since I am a nineteenth-century photo nerd at heart, I am very excited to see the new installation at the V&A, London
You are one of the judges in the Professional competition of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. What entries are you particularly keen to see?
Fresh images of interesting (or even mundane) subjects. I want to be surprised.
From your experience, what makes a photography series great?
Great storytelling from a unique perspective.
What advice would you like to give to the photographers entering the competition?
While it is important to look at the work of other photographers, make work that is wholly and uniquely yours.