Talking Photographs with Open Doors

Published: 02 Feb 2018

Open Doors is an incredible platform for beautiful contemporary photography. They helped The Auction Collective and Narcissus Arts find four works by Maria Lax and Alessandro Calvi for the Far From the Madding Crowd Auction on the 15th February. We caught up with the photographer and one of the founders of Open Doors, Tom Page, to see what contemporary photography is all about.

Firstly, Open Doors. What makes it different from the other photography initiatives out there?

I think what makes Open Doors different is its focus on 'emerging photographers'. There is so much talent out there but simply not enough people scooping them up! 

Last year Open Doors lifted the rock on 120 incredible photographers from all over the world. Most of which you will have never heard of. All of which are capable of surprising and delighting you. We then do all we can to make the very best available as affordable and collectable limited-edition prints. 

Our Instagram account for example is designed around the idea that anyone can take a great photo, but a great photographer can take one time and time again. So we don't share just one standalone beauty, we make sure to pick photographers sitting on outstanding projects or series. Photographers that tell stories, highlight unusual moments or are capable of taming the chaos all around us. We hope that by sharing at least six of their works you get a better sense of who they are. You then get to decide how successful they were @odtakeovers.

Photography is part of our daily lives now with 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram alone every day. But to you, what makes one photograph stick out from all the rest?  

Tell me about it! I'm swimming in a constant deluge of imagery. We all are. It is overwhelming. I think that’s why platforms like Open Doors, galleries and the big institutions are so important. They help filter out the noise and hopefully serve up the things that interest and captivate you.

I think what’s interesting is that you'll know in a fraction of a second whether an image is a keeper. Its often instinctual. It might be something deeply personal or it might be simply stunning. But there will be a connection that’s made... Believe in love at first sight!

The other day I heard a lovely story where someone bought a print by Thomas Brodin from us for their boyfriend. When she gave it to him, this big macho lad burst into tears! He is not someone who by admission has ever really 'got' art before. Doesn't collect. Never goes to galleries, hates the pretence. But there was something about the stoic nature of the little green shimmering caravan that connected deeply with him on this occasion. He felt it resonated with him and his entrepreneurial endeavours. Standing bravely against the elements.

I love those stories. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what art can do. Art is for everyone!

Ever Green © Thomas Brodin

What a powerful reaction to have but… some people, when looking at contemporary art dismiss it and say: ‘I could do that’. They do this a lot to photography, what do you have to say to that?

Firstly, I have to say I have so much respect for anyone who manages to live off their art. After all that’s what I tried to do for many years but with little success. Banging my head against the pristine white walls of galleries across London. Needless to say I politely got shown the door repeatedly. 

It’s a frustrating, lonely and often soul-destroying labour of love! 

But also remember that it was them that did it. Someone took the risk. It’s easy to stand and criticise sometimes but it is oh so hard to pop it on a plinth and say to the world that "it’s mine... I did that". If it goes well you quite rightly get all the plaudits but when it doesn't hit the right notes, we are all so quick to grind them into the ground.

Sorry if that seems a little combative, I was watching the brilliant Birdman film the other day, I think it may have affected me more than I know!

No – that sounds fair! A lot of the buyers at The Auction Collective are new to buying artworks, what advice would you give them when buying photography?

It’s a cliché but it’s true, buy what you love. It is no different with photography. Chances are you are going to have to live with it for a long time so make sure it’s something that inspires or challenges you or breeds a sense of nostalgia.

Often the most confusing thing about photography is the edition system. This is the amount of prints that are going to be made per image. The artist or the gallery set this limit. If you are interested in collecting, then make sure you get a signed certificate from the gallery stating which print yours is in the edition. Also, if your piece is not signed by the artist that you get a signed label from the artist too. Keep these safe. 

Try building strong relationships with a few galleries you like and trust your instincts. You are usually right ;)
That’s good to know. But you work with a lot of incredible artists from all over the world, how do you ensure the authenticity of the photographs and that artists stick to their limited print runs?

To some extent the industry is built on trust. However, it is in both the gallery and the artists interest to be honest about the editions otherwise their market is ruined. 

Open Doors takes this very seriously indeed and has contracts with all the artists we represent ensuring the artist & OD are clear what’s expected. We simply wouldn't work with artists that abuse that system.

A lot of buyers are also hanging art on their wall for the first time, do you have any advice on storing and displaying a photograph?

Well I guess rule number one is avoid the temptation to hang in your bathroom. By all means hang out in there (I mean, it’s your house, your rules) but if you can avoid it, don't hang photography up in there. In fact, avoid humid environments at all costs. Yea sorry so those Thai beach retreats you have tucked away might need a re think. The paper is not going to be happy in that environment.

Spend a little more and buy a decent archival frame. The best way to preserve your print is in a strong frame. Don't fall for the trap of the short-termist Habitat or Ikea solution. In terms of longevity you are going to want UV protected glass too.

I would also say that in most cases (unless you are Elton John) simplicity rules. Our standard frame option is a simple thin black metal frame. I have yet to meet a print that hasn't popped when presented in one. Open Doors for offers bespoke frames for very affordable prices. Reach out. Enquires are free and we're happy to give advice.

And lastly give it room to breathe. Obviously, the Summer exhibition is an exception. But most of us sadly simply don't have that much art to go around! So, give your artwork space. You want to be able to enjoy it without too many distractions.

Well perhaps people should go to more auctions then!

There are currently 800 million Instagrammers snapping away out there today but, obviously apart from @theauctioncollective…, what is your favourite Instagram account to follow?

Well obviously, all our represented photographers are worth following (Find out more here). Instagram is such an experimental space that I find it fascinating watching what they put out there.

But after that, I like an account that takes me on a journey. It should challenge you and take you somewhere new... @yearofthephoto I find brilliant. Constantly exposing me to work by past masters I've not seen before. Like this photo by Franco Fontana. Stunning in my opinion, much like a classical painting. I won't like them all, but occasionally an absolute diamond comes along.

But if you want to know my dirty little secret?... psst... you must follow @discoversharks. You won't regret it. Both disturbs and fascinates me in equal measure.

We have to point out your personal Instagram account @motbox which is an amazingly creative. We won’t spoil the surprise for the readers, so they will have to look themselves but trust us. Tom is a genius.

© Franco Fontana

And finally, what exciting things do you have planned with Open Doors and how can readers of this get involved? 

Wow we have a lot of plates spinning at the moment. Not least a few pieces in The Auction Collective’s upcoming Landscape auction at Menier gallery. 

We have also just confirmed an exhibition destined for Peckham, 3-8 April. This is going to be a great opportunity for us to showcase some fresh talent and I am so excited about seeing it come together. 

The big project that I'm working on at the moment is our first Open Doors Annual which will be launched at the beginning of the summer. Featuring the best takeovers from 2017 it is your chance to own a stunning physical copy of some of your favourite photographers. There will be a great exhibition to launch it too!

The best way to keep up with our goings on is to follow us @odtakovers

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