Spotlight: Life Framer

For six years Life Framer has been shining the spotlight on emerging photographers. They have a truly international membership with a regular programme of competitions, culminating in annual exhibitions in several countries. They attract a quality cohort of judges for their competitions and their Journal and feedback sessions also increases their ability to provide a much needed sense of community.

We have worked with the group since its inception and have provided printing and mounting services together with collaboration on judging and mentorship – Life Framer Rotterdam opens on the 28th November at Contour Gallery, so we thought it high time we put the spotlight on founders Ralph and Amaury.

Over the last six years Life Framer has been championing and showcasing emerging photographic talent via its website community and annual exhibitions on several continents. Can you tell us a bit about the organisation and how it has evolved and how the membership has grown over this time?

Thanks for this opportunity! It’s not often I’m the one answering questions.

Life Framer is a photography award with a focus on work from emerging photographers. We run monthly calls for entries, each with a different theme and a different judge – usually a well-known photographers, curator, editor or gallerist – and at the end of every 12 months we exhibit the winners in galleries around the world, just as you say.

When I started it with my co-founder Amaury – he a photographer, and me an avid photo book and photography consumer – he saw an opportunity for an award that had artistic integrity, but was accessible to amateur and emerging photographers like himself. And the format felt pretty fresh and different. Hopefully we’ve created something that’s valuable and interesting in that respect.

Since then we’ve grown a bit, bringing in collaborators and expanding what we do – exhibiting in further-flung locations, and adding things like memberships and portfolio reviews – but ultimately the core has stayed the same.

You have a very active and engaged community online via competitions; the Life Framer Journal and the online gallery – how important are the physical exhibitions that you present each year in collaboration with galleries and what criteria do you place on the locations that you select to exhibit in?

In a sense you could argue that online is more important – after all the audience that we can access online is far bigger than any audience that will visit our physical exhibitions. But for me they’re fundamental. A gallery setting, whether it’s the Tate Modern or a tiny pop-up space, is just so much more conducive to engaging with art than a screen. There’s a superficiality in viewing photography online – not that I don’t enjoy it, but there are aspects of a physical show in the curation, print and framing choices that bring so much, and that we just can’t mimic online. There’s something about physically being there, being present. You engage more slowly and deeply. I’m realising that now more than ever while galleries are closed.

As for the locations, there are no specific criteria. We tend to select cities that have an art scene, and where we have an audience; but we like to push to places beyond that too. We would have been running a show in Lagos this year were it not for the pandemic. Often the gallery spaces are run by people we’ve met through the course of Life Framer – it’s always great to work with people who understand what we’re trying to do and vice versa.

The Life Framer competitions are an integral part of the organisation and it’s an opportunity for members to have their work exhibited and critiqued by a high quality Jury. Not only that but you are always keen to provide feedback and positive exposure to those who join. There is a small fee for participating, and there are arguments for and against charging fees – can you explain from your perspective on the charging process?

Ultimately it costs money to run the award and an entry fee is what ensures we can keep the lights on. I do also think there’s a value to it in terms of how entrants perceive the award – you engage more with something that’s not a freebie, thinking more deeply about what you submit and why you’re submitting in the first place. With that said, I totally get the counter-arguments, and if we could subsidise the entry fee via a large sponsor we’d consider it. There are of course other awards, grants and contests out there, many of which are free to submit to. We often point photographers to free opportunities too.

There are a multitude of membership platforms for creatives to join, can you explain what makes Life Framer different and what is the demographic of your audience and community?

I think the format we have is relatively unique, as is the depth of feedback we offer, but really it’s for others to say where there’s truth in that and whether what we’re offering is valuable! As for the audience, it’s an increasingly broad mix of photographers – amateur, experience, young, old, and from countries all over the world. I think the 24 photographers in our current exhibitions represent 17 different countries, and that’s just great. The more diverse the audience, the more diverse the perspectives and subject matter, and that can only be a good thing.

2020 has been a bit of a write off for many, what will be your abiding memory of Life Framer through the pandemic?

Oh man, you’re not wrong – it’s been a tough year for so many in the creative arts, and in many cases the end isn’t quite yet in sight. Without trivialising any of the struggles photographers are continuing to have, I’ve seen a swell of creative responses to the pandemic, and that’s been really positive. Our judges have picked some great works made in direct response – Alex Llovet’s Humans of the World image, Alessio Pellicoro’s Colors image and our Lockdown selection are ones that jump to mind – but more broadly the lockdown has given space and time for reflection, experimentation, rest… and that’s no bad thing!

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