The MaryAnn Camilleri Mixtape
I enjoy being able to push and inspire photographers and help them attain their goals. For that alone, I would say I have an excellent track record. Of late, I have seen our name on many projects, books and exhibitions and it makes me feel good that I have made a difference, and in some way, a significant contribution.
I think the fact that today’s Mixtape feature has a Simpson-esque portrait to kick off the post hints at the person behind the cartoon. I met MaryAnn Camilleri at the Flash Forward Festival in Boston in 2012, where she had invited me to lecture and offered me an exhibition (yes, I am over 34). I wasn’t prepared for the life force behind the Magenta Foundation–a spirited, enthusiastic, engaging leader with laser focus and drive. She’s the kind of person who, when she walks into a room, makes everything better. The food is more delicious, the music danceable, and the cocktails have a bit more punch. She has a warm personality that pulls you in, but also has the true qualities of a visionary leader.
The Magenta Foundation is a multi-tiered organization that is all about promoting, exposing, and celebrating photography and photographers. The Foundation’s reach goes far beyond the Flash Forward Exhibition (limited to emerging photographers under 34). The organization offers opportunities for exhibition for photographers of all ages, is a publisher, and is building a significant photography collection. The Magenta Foundation exhibitions are in-gallery and often in public spaces, bringing photography to new and unique environments that really spark and engage the interest of the community. The Festivals include lectures, exhibitions on site and throughout the cities, networking, panel discussions, and evening events. On a personal note, I was honored to be a juror and curator for the 2013 Flash Forward Exhibition and know from the inside out, what a quality organization this is–and how lucky our community is to have Ms. Camilleri steering the ship.
On November 7th, the third stop on the Flash Forward Exhibition tour will open in London at Photofusion. After traveling from Toronoto to Boston and ending in London, a group of talented emerging photographers will have received international exposure on walls around the world, will be featured in the hard cover catalog, and become part of the Magenta Foundation Family. It’s a yearly launching pad for photographers that is simply incredible.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce the MaryAnn Camilleri Mixtape!
Tell us about growing up and what brought you to photography.
I collected fashion magazines obsessively when I was around 9 years old, and tore out pages that moved me. I created scrapbooks of these images and kept them in private places in my bedroom. I was so drawn to light, colour, shapes, textures and most of all PAPER! Coming from a family of non-artist appreciation, I hid all I did until I hit high school and then it really poured out of me. I think I picked up my first camera when I was 13 and photographed my girlfriends and my dog. I loved the entire experience, and more so, dropping the film off to Black’s and returning in a week with my hard-earned allowance to collect the prints.
It then became my entire focus, and like all the things I do, I sat in the library for hours at a time, looked at books, of all sorts of art and photography, and knew this was the arena I would be part of one day. Mind you, there is something to be said for being self-taught. I learned everything from reading books, making a shitload of mistakes and most of all, asking questions. I convinced my parents to put a darkroom downstairs in the kitchen when I was 15, and I never looked back. By the time I left high school, I was totally absorbed in photography. I was hanging around cool kids that dressed in very fashion-forward ways, so it made taking their photos pleasurable. We always found reasons to run around the city and take photos.
Graduating high school at an earlier age, I took a few years off to become independent and explore the world. Although I wasn’t photographing during that time, I was deep in my head, plotting my photography work. By the time I was 21, I applied to Ryerson and was accepted. You might say, I had a very clear focus of what I wanted from my schooling and I knew the kind of photographer I wanted to be. University was a good experience and I took every advantage of it to explore the medium to its fullest and also to create my first long term project, that was published when I was 26.
From getting my first book published to starting a magazine with a few friends, and learning how to make books, all before age 29, that’s where my desire for publishing crept in. Books and paper are my thing. I can’t walk into a book store without smelling the pages of book [and in case you don’t know this, cheap books smell badly!] and I collect little, interesting bound books that I write in. People laugh at me when they see me look at a book, because the first thing I do is smell the pages to see if the printer used good paper stock, then I look at the spine to see how the book was bound and in which manner the paper is being held together, and lastly, I always start from the back of a book.
Its easy to see why I am in the position I am today, even though, my journey, was quite convoluted and all over the place.
I am the Founder and The Magenta Foundation and the Director of Flash Forward Festival. In simple terms…..I am a jack of all traits, a kick-ass producer.
My typical day is answering about 250 emails a day…. And I do my best to manage everything we have going on and my teams, in all the cities we work in.
And at Night, I tune everything out, have dinners with my gays [for those of you who don’t know I have a posse of amazing gay men who I spend a majority of my free time with and they travel with me as well. They are my family and where all my fearlessness comes. Straight women + gay men = a lethal collaboration.
I created my job and foundation to suit my attention span, I have no complaints and love working as much as I do.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
That’s easy, Magenta and Flash Forward. One might say that I started Magenta at the right time. It all fell into place and works well because, over the many years I have worked in this industry, Magenta is the by-product of all those jobs. However, the not-for-profit aspect was tricky, but I researched what an NFP was online and then thought, ‘I could so that’ and did it. As everyone knows, I hand-pick everyone we work with. I think that is why my foundation works as well as it does. We are small and fierce and I have a very involved board of directors who come to all the openings we do worldwide, and have a lot of input in all things Magenta. I’d be lost without them and I owe all our success to their talent, dedication and support. It’s hard to imagine that all of our accomplishments started out from talks over a bottle of wine.
And I would have to say that I also appreciate my skills at the most important role in my job, which is stewardship. It’s really the key to success in raising money and the foundation structure. But I really have to say that I am SO BLESSED to have some of the best sponsors ever. They are passionate and, supportive and know when to challenge what we are doing. Their involvement makes a huge difference. I think people will be shocked reading this, but I have had some of the same sponsors for the past nine years and am always cultivating and looking to work with new ones who share the same vision. I think that collaboration is such a powerful tool and I am thankful for them for allowing me to be a visionary and supporting what I truly believe in.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
I have such a varied background and have been hustling in this industry for so long, that I don’t expect anything other than a good conversation, seeing some good work and meeting the other reviewers. I always keep my expectations low so that there is no pressure on anyone who sits infront of me. Mind you, we have an excellent track record for seeing some good work, being able to place work really quickly and helping if we can’t publish it; seeing it through to someone else. I enjoy being able to push and inspire photographers and help them attain their goals. For that alone, I would say I have an excellent track record. Of late, I have seen our name on many projects, books and exhibitions and it makes me feel good that I have made a difference, and in some way, a significant contribution.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Yes you bet:
2] Know who you are speaking to. I’m offended when I ask someone if they know about my organization and they have no clue. It’s your job to know, so prepare yourself and be considerate to others who have worked long and hard to get where they are.
3] If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, be honest and tell the reviewer that. I always find it refreshing when someone sits down and says they want advice, or this is their first time and they want to learn. It makes me feel like we can have a good conversation and I think those photographers get a whole lot more than others who come across as know-it-alls.
4] KNOW YOUR PROJECT and what you are talking about. There is nothing worse than hearing what is being said about the project and then looking at the photos and what is being said is nowhere near what is being shown. I will keep having you talk over and over about your project and challenge you on what you are saying until I think it matches the photos. For all those that I have done this to, the rest of their time at portfolio reviews ended up being very successful.
5] We all have our opinions and we all have different ways of seeing things. Take things with a grain of salt and FOLLOW THROUGH. If you want your project to be successful, you need to do the work. And YES, this is the side all artists hate but too bad. Get with the program.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
Everyone knows I am a foodie. My mother was a chef and I grew up in an Italian neighborhood with women who made homemade pastas, bread, tomato sauce and we just incredible cooks. I love to cook, although I never get around to it because I’m always working and at the end of the day, I’m just too tired. However I know where to go and have a bite, in MANY cities and if I am invited to a cottage, I tend to do a lot of the cooking.
And if I were to tell you one thing you don’t know me is that I like to be alone, for long periods of time. I enjoy my own company and my own space. It really helps me do the work I need to and I find it very helpful. Being a social person is quite contrary to this concept, but there you have it.
And because this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?
Oh Christ….pinning me down for music is impossible. Like all the things I do, I have an interest in many, many things. To give you an idea of just how crazy it can be, you should know I starting hitting clubs when I was 17 and danced my face off. So musically, I was shaped by the likes of David Bowie, anyone who wore makeup in the 90’s [Japan, Adam Ant, Robert Smith for example], Siouxsie and the Bandshees, then there’s the ska bands and punk rock bands that helped with all my teenage angst. Someowhere in my 20s, I got into pretty heavy rock like Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, Soundgarden [I had a huge crush on Chris Cornell. Didn’t everyone?] and then that moved into Eminem, Run DMC and other good rap artists. There is also other sides to my personality that listens to Madonna, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Rhianna and Jay Z and then there’s the mellow side to me where things like the Cocteau Twins, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Edith Piaf and Beck help me stay in the moment. Music is really important to me. Right now I am all over Arcade Fire and listening to Lounge Music from Songza.
The last time I danced was a few weeks ago in Pittsburgh for the Festival of Firsts. We were with 100,000 other people enjoying the visit of a big rubber duck on the water and we needed to get to the other side. So in order to do so, we danced to get past the crowd. Let’s face it, if you’ve ever been to a rave with the gays, you will know all too well, shaking your booty is a way to get through to any corner.
And now, for some extended play, I hand the post over to Maryann Camilleri….
What is the Future of Magenta?
I decided to talk about our next year, what we have planned for our 10th anniversary and where the future is for us. If you’ve been following our organization, we are pretty hard to predict. My board and I have allowed Magenta to be a very organic company, and its been working well so far. When it comes to the projects we do, I simply trust my instincts and move forward. I tend to focus on emerging artists and then artists who are not famous, or who have been working in this field for a long time and have been forgotten. I guess you might say I can spot talent quickly and know how to turn the light back on a career when its starting to fade. I work with an incredible team and some amazing Magenta collaborators like Julien Beaupré Ste Marie, Paula Tognarelli, Stella Kramer, my Photoville team and so many others.
We will kick off our anniversary year with a new monograph of Canadian artist Scott McFarland. This will be a boutique-edition book. I’m excited to work on this, as it will allow me to push a few design ideas I have been sitting on forward. It will coincide with his Art Gallery of Ontario show. We then follow that up with our 4th installment of Flash Forward Festival Boston. We plan to utilize more outdoor spaces and keep the format of pre-festival exhibitions in tact. That will allow us to bring in some major shows. In June, FF 2014 hits the press.
For this, we have a few special things planned. I guess the highlight for me will be the boxed set of books we will produce. Showcasing the photographers who passed through the program is really exciting. For me, it allows me to see the success of the program in so many other ways. When you are working to perfect something, you rarely get to see its accomplishments. I think, year 10 will allow me to see it in its fullest and I am very excited to be working with the originators of the project and all the artists. Are you intrigued yet?
By the way, this brings us to June 2014 only.
The Fall of 2014 will bring us our 10th anniversary of Flash Forward and Magenta, the 2nd year of Magenta POP Pittsburgh, and our latest high-school incubator program for emerging artists.
It’s going to be one hell of an exciting year. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how we will survive it. As for what the next 10 years will bring, I honestly can’t answer. There are a few things that we are in progress with regards to high schools slated for 2015. I think this area could be our legacy project, and I’m confident it will be a hit.
For me and our future, the most important part for all us here is to keep doing what we are doing and make it better by challenging ourselves and embracing where we are today in technology. Magenta’s strength is collaboration and I hope to see much more of that, in all forms, moving forward.
And I don’t want to over plan the future; it dismisses all the new and exciting projects that pop up that we make room for, and I love that aspect of my job. As for other cities we will move into, Tokyo is on my hit list, so I can only predict we will be there within the next two years.
Like everyone, my future depends on the talent that’s out there and how I may be able to help the best. It’s exciting when you don’t know what that will look like.
Thank you, Maryann, for all you do for photography!
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