Interview with Alexey Shifman, founder of Raw Streetphoto Gallery
Since the early 20th century street photography has seen a significant rise.
In large part this is due to technology which has, on the one hand given more people access to the act of taking photographs (the whole ‘everyone is a photographer’ thing), and on the other hand it has provided various outlets that encourage people to share their work.
There are plenty of virtual galleries available to showcase street photography, from facebook to Instagram, flicker, personal websites, National Geographic’s ‘Your Shot’, Lensculture (if you’ve entered one of their competitions)…the list goes on. However, exhibiting this work in the ‘real world’ is whole different story, especially as an emerging photographer.
Is there a time lag between the virtual and real world in which it’s just a matter of time before the real world catches up? Or does street photography signed by John or Jane Doe simply not sell?
Naturally, we’re no experts in this area so we interviewed Alexey Shifman, founder of Raw Street Photo Gallery to answer these questions for us.
Christelle Enquist: To get this show on the road, tell us a little bit about yourself, Alexey.
Alexey Shifman: Great question to start the show and thank you for this opportunity.
I always dreamt of being part of the art world. Painting and architecture have inspired me since my childhood and eventually I became a naval architect and art curator. I think these two forces have always lead me, but it was not so obvious to me when I started. It took me a long time to figure out what my real passion was and how to transform my dreams and ideas into something tangible.
CE : Why did you choose to specialise in street photography?
Alexey Shifman: Before opening my own gallery, I was working for a big art company and later for a contemporary art gallery as a volunteer. During those years I discovered the “backstage” of the industry, and I can tell you, it is not as glamorous as you would think! I also became very aware of how difficult it was for an emerging artist to find a way to exhibit his/her work.
Meanwhile photography and street photography has been my hobby since early childhood and I was spending a lot of time with street photographers, I knew many people in that area. So, there were two developments that were parallel, I simply united them into one. It was a Eureka moment! Street photography was not a choice, it had always been there.
CE: In places like NY, street photography by emerging talents sells, however it appears to me more difficult in Europe. Why do you think this is?
Alexey Shifman: I think in the US audience is ready to invest in art and into new names. The European public however, is very traditional: first, you must become a star, and only afterwards will they buy your work! The thing that people forget is that in order to become a star or a recognised photographer, these photographers need to grow and develop.
There are few galleries that dare to change the status quo and prefer to play safe game. Though I understand the galleries perfectly well, they (we) need to generate income as well and therefore it becomes a vicious circle. But, RAW Streetphoto Gallery exists and it proves that other approaches are possible.
CE: What criteria do you use when selecting a photographer to exhibit?
Alexey Shifman: Thank you for this question. In fact, it is a very difficult question to answer, precisely because there is not much criteria nor are there any fixed rules. I always try to understand what the photographer is trying to bring to me as an observer. I look for a new angle, a new thought, a new reflection. The quality of the photography obviously is important however, this one quality alone is not enough nor is it always essential: I did an exhibition of Instagram and Polaroid photography and in this case the quality was far from great.
CE: Does the number of ‘followers’ that person has on Instagram or other social media influence your selection? 😉
Alexey Shifman: A Very provocative question! No, it does not influence my selection. Some photographers are not even on social media and others concentrate entirely on the social aspect of photography. So basically, we deal with photographers at both extremes as well as everything in between!
CE: On your website you offer 2 kinds of memberships: Free and VIP, which include a number of benefits. Do both guarantee and exhibition in your gallery?
Alexey Shifman: Only the VIP membership guarantees an exhibition in my gallery, either in Rotterdam or in Tel Aviv. It takes time to come to that point and naturally there is a schedule for the exhibitions. But the subscription is designed with the final aim of an exhibition, yes.
CE: You also have an online store selling prints. How do you see the future of print sales with regards to online vs. galleries? (Do you think physical galleries will eventually disappear?)
Alexey Shifman: The core idea behind the online gallery is that it can potentially feature an unlimited quantity of photographers. With the online store we also do the curation work so that they are not just pictures for sale, but an online exhibition as well. It has the big advantage of being accessible for all the online community. Nevertheless, artists cannot see the audience.
I truly believe that for artistic growth an offline exhibition is paramount. You need to think about everything: how to print, where to print, what paper to use, the format, scale, whether to frame the photographs or not to frame them…there are a million questions that have to be answered in order to create an exhibition and to me, it is an important part of photography. With online exhibits, photos stay digital and there is not much work to do as a photographer.
I do not think that physical galleries will disappear. However, galleries and museums must understand what the new 21st century art will be and how to behave within this new realm. From what I have been able to observe, galleries and museums are becoming more hybrid and this trend will probably solidify into some new forms of exhibitions.
CE: You’re about to open a second gallery in Tel Aviv and you also take part in photography festivals. What are your next projects/future plans?
Alexey Shifman: That is true. Many things are happening at the moment. I have started to work with an art curator in my Rotterdam based gallery, meanwhile opening a new gallery in Tel Aviv. In October I open an exhibition in a museum next to Athens which will act as a trial for future exchanges between Athens and Rotterdam. Further, I am developing new collaboration with a US-based art platform and together we are preparing a global tour of one exhibition that will go through Rotterdam, Los Angeles, New Mexico, London and Hong Kong.
So right now, I am working a lot, but I love it. I have many more ideas and plans within the field of art curating and photography exhibitions, hopefully they will all eventually come to fruition.
CE: And finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to exhibit in your gallery?
Alexey Shifman: Go beyond your limits, do not be afraid of risk!!
A big thank you Alexey, for your time and for this very interesting interview.
Dear readers, if you’re looking for new outlets for your street photography work, do check out the links below!
P.S. The fact that the gallery is called RAW Streetphoto gallery is pure coincidence and discovering them was the result of someone accidentally tagging us instead of them! So thank you mystery tagger, without you none of this would have been possible!
Don’t miss out on our upcoming workshop on how to showcase your work, in collaboration with Raw Streetphoto Gallery:
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