March 22nd, 2017
2017 Aperture Summer Open: A Conversation With Eric Gottesman from For Freedoms
Aperture is currently accepting submissions for the 2017 Aperture Summer Open, an open-submission exhibition for which all image-makers are eligible. Entries for the exhibition will be accepted until Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 12:00 noon EST.
Curated by Eric Gottesman, Hank Willis Thomas, and Wyatt Gallery of For Freedoms, an artist-run initiative that uses art as a tool for political engagement, this year’s Summer Open invites photographers to submit work relating to the idea of freedom. Aperture recently spoke with Eric Gottesman about photographic liberation.
Aperture: How can photography, and particularly images relating to freedom, help us envision the future? How do pictures help us see what or who we can be?
Eric Gottesman: Freedom is not one thing and images cannot define any one idea or concept. They help us draw shapes around an idea; they triangulate and circumscribe. The rectangular frame excludes more than what it displays. Perhaps moving away from the limits of a frame, limited as it is by the history of that frame, is the ultimate form of photographic freedom. I’m reminded of the words of the exiled Assata Shakur: “I can tell you more about what freedom isn’t than what it is, because I have never been free.”
Aperture: Recently you organized an exhibition at Aperture, Collective Thinking, For Freedoms. The exhibition examined the notion of collectivity and how it can serve as a model for artists to work together to share a common message to a diverse and global community. How do you think your experience with this exhibition will inform the Summer Open?
Gottesman: There was so much to talk about! It was fascinating to hear how all these different collectives, working in vastly different modes and contexts, could inform each other’s work. As someone put it on the last panel, we all seem to be addressing the same set of ideas from different perspectives. Often there is this idea that how we relate to one another is in competition with how we express and value individual voices. What emerged from the exhibition, and what I hope will inform the Summer Open, is that collectivity and individuality need not compete. They can coexist. And collectivity can even enable individuality. Difference is of value. We can all be weird together.
Aperture: Considering the current conversations about human rights, climate change, capitalism, and corruption, it feels like representations of freedom are always negative. Does it have to be so?
Gottesman: No. Liberation can be celebratory. It is important to think about both what we must free ourselves from and also what true, utopic freedom might look like. Being free can mean throwing off an oppressive system that prevents us from loving who we love. Or it can mean having an orgy. Or it can mean loving one person for the rest of your life. Or all of these things. It all depends.
Aperture: For Freedoms is an explicitly political arts organization involved in U.S. politics. Clearly, you believe in the power of images to effect change. What do you want to tell artists (from all around the world, not just the U.S.) who are thinking about submitting to the Summer Open?
Gottesman: I think it is a very complicated equation to go from a photograph to social change and it rarely has anything to do with the intention of the photographer. It is more often the case nowadays that images coincide with historical events and can inadvertently contribute to larger movements. The power of photography is not in what it can do but in what we can see through it. I hope those who contribute to the Summer Open will show us something that they see that has never been seen before. We are only explicitly political because we say we want to be explicitly political. What do you want to be? Why do you do what you do?
Aperture: What kinds of images are you hoping to see when reviewing submissions?
Gottesman: I hope we see images that surprise us. I love photographs that completely confound any ideas I have previously had. Blow our minds.