Interview with Photography Consultant Marc Prust

Photography Consultant Marc Prüst has created a unique career for himself working with some of the oldest and newest photo organizations. Here Marc let’s Dodge & Burn pick his brain, sharing his personal journey on how he came to work in photography, sound advice for photographers and what he thinks great photo work should do.

D&B: How did you get started in your career within the photo industry?

MP: My start in photography happened unexpectedly. I graduated from university with a major in International Policy Studies and Japanese language. With an interest in photography, sure, but without real ambition in that direction. I had taken a few years amateur courses at a cultural centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, but was not a very talented student.

Then came a job opportunity at the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam at the exhibition department. I decided to apply, and to my surprise I got the job. At the time, the WPP exhibitions travelled to some 80 venues worldwide every year, and I organized 15-20 of those exhibitions yearly. It allowed me to travel the world, meet lots of people and learn a lot about photography. The period around the judging of the annual World Press Photo competition was an intense and instructive period.

After a few years, I became head of the exhibition department. In that capacity I was the project manager of the exhibition organized on the 50th anniversary of WPPh in 2005. Curated by Christian Caujolle, with a book edited by Chris Boot, WPPh created a project on 50 years of photojournalism published in magazines: Things As They Are, Photojournalism in Context since 1955.

After the completion of this project (with 5 editions of the book, and a travelling exhibition to Amsterdam, Paris, Seoul and Tokyo) I left the organization and joined Agence VU’ in Paris as Director Cultural Activities. After two intense years, working with great photographers, I took the jump to become freelance, and work as an indepent consultant and curator.

D&B: What does it mean to be a Photography Consultant and Curator?

MP: This title is actually just a title: I decided to call myself a consultant as it allows me to take on lots of different kinds of projects: editing books, promoting projects, giving lectures, organizing master classes, curating individual shows and festivals, etc.

I prefer to work closely together with photographers on their projects, finding the right story, and then selecting those images in right shape and format to tell their story they way they want it told. Festivals are great, too: it gives me the opportunity to combine all those different stories into my own statement.

D&B: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

MP: Most rewarding is to work with photographers: to get to know them, and specially the stories they have to tell. To be able to then tell those stories with their images, to truly visualize their points of view, is great. When you see the book, the exhibition, or a simple edit as a result of a process I’ve been through with the photographer is very rewarding.

Portrait of Marc Prust by Inge Hondebrink

D&B: Tell us about your work with the Lagos Photo festival. Why Nigeria?

MP: For Lagos Photo, I am the artistic director, which means that together with the director and founder of the festival Azu Nwagbogu, I select the participating artists and projects, and I am in charge of setting up the exhibitions in Lagos.

I was asked by Azu to join in on the project after a mutual friend recommended him to get in touch with me. I immediately loved the idea of working on a photo festival in such an exciting place.

Though I had never been to Lagos, I have friends who had and they all told me great stories about it. There is so much energy in that place, it is really great.

D&B: What can we look for at Lagos Photo 2011?

MP: For Lagos Photo 2011 it is our aim to show where the African continent is going with all its problems, challenges, variety, beauty, and ideas… Depicted primarily in photographic presentations, African countries are often portrayed as the stereotypical problematic places chronicling wars, conflicts, rape, drought and hunger.

While these are legitimate realities that need to be discussed, addressed, and hopefully one day solved, there is so much more. While Europe and the US are struggling with the effects of the financial crisis and how to modernize their economies, conversely there does not seem to be an economic crisis in Lagos.

We find Luanda to be the most expensive capital of the world and a fat man competition is a yearly event in rural Ethiopia. These stories are out there, yet nobody knows of them. These are the stories we will be showing.

[Editor’s Note: Watch video of Lagos Photo 2010.]

D&B: Describe your role with the Noorderlicht photography festival.

MP: For Noorderlicht I curated an exhibition as part of the festival ‘Human Condition’ in 2009, and currently I act as an ‘ambassador’ for the Noorderlicht; the gallery, the bookpublisher, and indeed the festival.

Contrary to LagosPhoto, which is only in its second year, Noorderlicht has been around for almost 20 years and is very established. Their exhibitions are top of the bill, their books show courage and love for photography and publishing. However, they are not that well known outside Western Europe and that is where I try to play a role.

D&B: Do you have any tip(s) for photographers looking for exposure?

MP: I think photographers have to be very active in seeking exposure and promotion of their work: to put it online and then wait for the phone to ring is not going to do it. Photographers need to be out there and meet people, talk to people, produce and promote their work actively.

I always find portfolio reviews at festivals great ways to meet photographers, but also at other events like exhibition openings or lectures. Most people I meet want to work with people they know and they get along with – so meeting others, without being arrogant or difficult is (besides producing great work) a good way of promoting yourself.

© Jeffrey Silverthorne – Boy hit by car, 1972-74

D&B: Who’s work has recently caught your eye?

MP: Mario Macilao: a young photographer from Mozambique whose work we showed in Lagos last year. I saw him again recently in Arles during the photography festival there and he gave me his latest (small) publication. His work is honest, direct, and very good.

On the other end of the scale: Jeffrey Silverthorne, an American photographer who recently had an overview of his entire career in an exhibition and a book in Noorderlicht: it shows 40 years of his work, and tells about the search for Life and Death: harsh, difficult, but truly great photography.

D&B: Do you personally collect photography? If so, who’s in your collection? 

MP: I am not a collector, I like photobooks, and have a good number of them, but I would not call myself a collector.

D&B: Your thoughts on the future of photography…

MP: So many things are happening with photography, it is difficult to predict the future of course. I feel the future for photographers is in storytelling: everyone can take good individual images, either news, illustration, stock or even art photogrpahy. But to really tell a story using photographs and not words, and being understood by an audience: that is something only talented and committed photographers are able to do.

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