During the official opening day of Unseen Amsterdam, the Jury Winner will be announced for the ING Unseen Talent Award, an ongoing collaboration between ING and Unseen. With Unseen Amsterdam less than a fortnight away, we spoke to Jury Member Emma Bowkett to get to the heart of her approach to photography and what she’s looking for in a winner. Her career to date steeped in awards and recognition for her phenomenal work within the photography industry, Emma Bowkett currently holds the position of Director of Photography at the Financial Times Weekend Magazine.
How would you describe the visual style of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine? What is your view of photography’s place within the magazine?
There is dynamic relationship between text, image and design, a cohesion we are keen to build on and progress. Photography plays a fundamental role in the identity of the magazine. It coexists with the words, has its own life and function in the creation of narrative. We present reportage alongside conceptual work, artists portfolios next to personal projects. We strive to create a pace and balance in the run of magazine that will challenge audience expectations of long-form journalism.
When you became the Director of Photography, did you decide to take a new approach or change things up at all? How do you put your own stamp on it?
My background is one of an art-based practice. I studied photography at Goldsmiths and I came to the magazine with this vision. I assembled a photographic team with different strengths and interests so we can learn from each other and have a broad view on the visual landscape. I have always been keen to work with emerging artists as well as established ones, investing time to develop their language and application in an editorial context. I am not concerned with conventional genre classification when commissioning. On the contrary, we work with a range of photographers across practice, giving them as much freedom as possible to express their own creativity.
As Director of Photography, you often commission photographers to create new work for your publication. Where do you look for new photo talent? And what do you look out for?
I am looking everywhere! Social media, magazines, archives, folio reviews, galleries, festivals, awards. I actively encourage artists to make contact. In my experience, the industry is generous and over time I have built relationships with curators, artists and editors. We are all sharing ideas and contacts and I love this organic approach, people are genuinely excited to introduce new work. I have recently moved into curating and this also feeds back into the magazine, working on projects across the platform. I suppose I am looking for a diverse range of artists with distinctive vision—curious storytellers, but it’s more abstract than that. I rely also on my instincts, an engagement with an artists’ work that takes me somewhere emotionally. This doesn’t need to happen in a hurry—many of my relationships are built over long periods, with much time invested.
What are the important factors you will take into consideration when evaluating the work of the finalists for the ING Unseen Talent Award?
I will look for work that has a sense of authorship, showing depth, understanding and respect for the subject. A far-reaching concept that pushes at the boundaries of communication, work that engages the viewer in the act of seeing, and that feels new and compelling. I heard a really great piece of advice given to the poet Kate Tempest: ‘Shock them into focus with clarity of intent.’ I’d like to be shocked into focus by the work of these finalists.
What do you think this year’s ING Unseen Talent Award shortlist says about the state of photography today?
Visual communication is evolving, and with it an understanding of this language by audiences. The shortlist shows new documentary, conceptual and fine art practices being used to examine contemporary political and cultural narratives. It reflects artists’ approach to exploring complex themes and structures, and a shift away from traditional photojournalistic perspectives.
Image: Emma Bowkett, 2018 © Alicia Hart