The Jennifer Murray Mixtape
The Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, which takes place in September, and Filter Photo, which supports photographers year round, is under exciting new stewardship. Jennifer Murray was recently appointed Director of all-things-Filter Photo, continuing the legacy so masterfully created by festival founder, Sarah Hadley. Jennifer brings a wonderful skill set to the position–a native Chicagoan, she is an educator and photographer, has a background as a gallery director and photo event planner, but most importantly she brings imagination and dedication to photography. This stew of seasoned qualities and experiences will surely provide a rich feast of programming at Filter Photo, including Portfolio Reviews (now open for sign-ups), lectures (with a keynote lecture by Joel-Peter Witkin), exhibitions, workshops and countless opportunities for networking, exposure, and bonding. Jennifer knows the potential and power of creating community and has many plans to enrich the practice of photographers. Needless to say, we are all excited to welcome her to Filter Photo.
Jennifer is a Chicago-based artist, curator, and educator with more than 15 years experience as an arts administrator. She was Director of Averill and Bernard Leviton A+D Gallery at Columbia College Chicago for eleven years where she organized a broad range of exhibitions in art and design. In 2011, she inaugurated the A+D Gallery summer residency program to benefit underrepresented artists and collectives, including past participants ACRE and Bad at Sports. She is a founding member of the curatorial collective The Exhibition Project, which has curated three local photography exhibitions since their founding in 2013, Expanding the Frame and New Landscapes with a third exhibition, The Nature of Masculinity currently on view at the Freeport Art Museum, Freeport, IL. She continues an active photographic practice and has recently been awarded grants from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council. She is currently an Instructor of Photography at Loyola University Chicago and served as an adjunct at Columbia College Chicago for many years.
And now, The Jennifer Murray Mixtape!
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
I grew up in Chicago in a small, close-knit family of Chicago natives. My first experiences with photography came from my Dad. His job required frequent international travel and he shot slide film to record his trips. When he returned home, we always had a family slide show and he narrated his trip for us. Early memories of those slide shows and even of specific photographs stay with me – I can still hear the hum of the projector, and the squeaky screen being pulled up. Ultimately, I pursued an MFA in Photography at Columbia College Chicago, but those early experiences are leaking over into my current practice where I’m exploring the role of vernacular photography through a slide archive from an American couple’s European Tour in the 1970’s. I’m deeply interested in objects, their histories, narratives, and cultural significance. This is the basis of my photographic work but also informs the way I look at photography as a subject in addition to a medium.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I am a photographer, curator, educator and the Executive Director at Filter Photo. I also teach photography at Loyola University Chicago where many of my undergraduate students are not art or photography majors. I love those students; they come to photography with very stereotypical ideas about what photography is and how it functions in the world and I get to be the person that expands that worldview for them. For me, a typical day varies enormously and includes lots of email, writing, arts admin work, and preparing for class. Sprinkle in meetings, installing artwork, and reading about the vast photo world to stay abreast of current practices and photographers. Making time for my own practice is challenging, but ultimately the most satisfying thing that I do. My practice is shifting from one in which I take and make pictures “of things” and “about things” to one where photography itself is the subject. For me, that raises questions about what it means to be a “photographer.” I see a lot of other artists pursuing similar ideas about the photograph as subject. It’s an exciting time to be involved in photography.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I was Director of a small college art gallery at Columbia College Chicago for over a decade and grew the gallery from a scrappy, forgotten space to a destination gallery in Chicago. In addition to promoting a national and international scope of professional artists and curators I developed programming that included artist talks and lectures, exhibition catalogs, and a summer residency program. As a college gallery, it was always very important to me to remember the educational focus for each exhibition but also the role that we could play in providing a first gallery experience to young college students. I wanted to make sure that coming into the gallery was always a positive experience and get away from the feeling that somehow a gallery is an exclusive space. For me, that educational component also extended to the students that we employed. As a small gallery, students were able to do so much more than sit at the front desk and answer the phone. I emphasized teaching them how to handle and install artwork, partnered them with visiting artists, and invited them to participate in curatorial review discussions. Many of those students have gone on to careers as visual artists, curators and gallery directors.
As the new Executive Director at Filter Photo, I have similar goals for the organization. I see Filter Photo as an important community builder around photography, one that emphasizes inclusion and education. For those that are new to photography and need support that can mean workshops on portfolio development and critique groups allowing new artists to engage in a meaningful dialog about their work. Down the road, I plan to launch a formal internship program, which emphasizes gallery skills and arts administration to meet the needs of students and new graduates. It is so challenging for those new to photography and for recent graduates to find and maintain a community around photography. Filter Photo can provide that.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
I look for quality – quality of concept, presentation, craft, everything. I want people to be organized, articulate, have nice prints, and have a specific body of work to show me. Most importantly I want to look at pictures that are about something. I think there are so many artists and photographers who love the idea of a portfolio review but they are not ready yet. I know we all say that reviewees should do their homework (see below), but often I think people don’t really know what we mean by that. It’s not just about researching the reviewers but research your practice and your ideas. Like most reviewers, I don’t want to see a greatest hits portfolio because contemporary photography is about ideas. Most people can make a “beautiful” picture, but what is your idea? What is the overarching concept? Why do I want to look at these pictures? What do you want me to get out of them? We live in world saturated by photographs and yet people forget that every image matters. Why do your images matter?
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Be organized, articulate, and present a cohesive body of work. Research the reviewers to know who is the best fit for your work, research other photographers who have careers you want to emulate, and research your ideas so you understand how your work fits into contemporary photography. Bring business cards and remember that less is more in every possible way – don’t dominate the conversation, bring a simple business card, maintain a clean and uncluttered website, and write a concise artist statement devoid of flowery “art speak.”
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I have a lot of random skills that don’t fit on my CV and often think about how different my life would be if I had pursued any of them. I’m a rather physical person, a classic “I like to work with my hands” person and that has led to good photographic craft and darkroom skills and a knack for installing artwork but a lot of that comes from professional work I’ve done in the past. For example, I spent several years repairing and refinishing antique furniture at a shop in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It’s a good skill to have and family and friends will ask me how to fix something. I frequently buy antique wooden furniture for very cheap and restore it myself. I recently snagged two matching mid-century sofas in need of mild repair for so cheap I can’t even tell you.
And since this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?
Lots of dancing, but not usually in public. I’m too much of a people watcher to be able to dance in front of others. My musical tastes are very eclectic to which I also credit my Dad. He is a very musical person and there was always music when growing up so my tastes run from classic rock, R&B, to Indie Alternative. The Police, Andrew Bird, Portishead, Daughter, and I have a secret love for anything Motown.
And now we hand the head phones to Jennifer as she shares all the exciting news of the upcoming Festival!
I’m thrilled to have joined Filter Photo as the new Executive Director and honored to contribute to the momentum that Filter has built since opening a gallery space in 2015. The Chicago photography community is both strong and hungry for more – more opportunities and even just more conversation around photography. My goal is to see Filter build on the strong foundation of collaboration and professionalism ever present at Filter Photo Festival, making the Festival and gallery destinations within the Midwest and beyond where a dialog centered on contemporary photography can thrive. My first six-months have been filled with Festival and exhibition planning but I’m really looking forward to meeting so many new artists and photographers at the Festival this September and seeing some incredible work.
The 2016 Filter Photo Festival registration is now open!
The 8th Annual Festival will take place September 22 – 25, 2016. Filter Photo Festival is a multi-day celebration of the photographic medium that takes place every autumn in Chicago. Many events are free and open to the public.
2016 Festival programming includes a keynote lecture by Joel-Peter Witkin, workshops by Keith Carter, Brandon Thibodeaux, Karen Irvine, J. Sybllya Smith, April Wilkins, and S. Gayle Stevens. Artist talks by Alice Q. Hargrave, Patty Carroll, Leonard Suryajaya, Ross Sawyers, exhibition receptions, and much more. The majority of events will take place at the Festival’s hotel headquarters, Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, and evening activities will primarily take place at galleries and partner institutions around the city.
Portfolio Reviews are a central element of the Festival. During a portfolio review an artist is able to share work directly with local, national, and international photography professionals, including gallery directors, curators, editors, and publishers. Emerging and established photographers are welcome to sign up for these twenty-minute, one-on-one sessions.
About Filter Photo:
Filter Photo is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Chicago, Illinois.
Filter Photo’s mission is two-fold: first, to serve and support the photographic communities of Chicago and the Midwest; and second, to highlight Chicago as a vital center of the national photographic community.
Since 2009 Filter Photo has organized the annual Filter Photo Festival, a multiday celebration of photography that includes workshops, lectures, exhibition receptions, artist talks, and other diverse programming. A primary component of the Festival is the portfolio reviews, through which photographers are able to connect with national and international curators, gallery directors, editors, and other elite professionals.
In 2015 Filter Photo opened Filter Space, a permanent gallery and project space located in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood at 1821 West Hubbard Street, Suite 207. Filter Space hosts regular social, educational, and professional development activities, including exhibitions, workshops, and lectures.
Currently on view at Filter Space:
Bare Handed: Holly Lynton
June 3 – July 23, 2016
Through photography, Holly Lynton seeks to understand what is at the crux of people’s desire to maintain agrarian traditions in rural communities despite the challenges of globalization and new technology. In her series Bare Handed, she looks for moments of wonder, and aims to depict the delicate balance between dominance and surrender often found in the natural world. The individuals she photographs work in tandem with their environment, reaping benefits but leaving little mark, and have a spiritual commitment to their work that goes beyond the rational. Their work is a kind of meditation. Lynton celebrates that spiritual conviction and her images are meant to offer contrast to the iconic, historical images of hardship created by WPA photographers of the Great Depression period.
She photographs distinct geographical areas of the United States, each with a unique agricultural history and yet similar environmental concerns, and aims to stitch the regions together through commonalities, much like a quilt. Her project has grown into an extended body of work mirroring her interest in discovering how Americans are interacting with nature now, in the midst of an increasingly technological and mechanized world.
Lynton says, “I look for gestures and draw inspiration from religious paintings, mythology, and iconic tales of struggle to convey a sense of mysticism that can be found in the everyday.”
Thank you Jennifer, for all you do for photography!
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