Meet the Photo Open selelector: Tracy Marshall-Grant of the RPS
We chat to Tracy Marshall-Grant of the Royal Photographic Society - about her background in photography and her hopes as a selector for the upcoming RWA Photo Open...
...I’m hoping the submissions we receive for the Photo Open will reflect the sheer quality and range of work being produced by photographers across the UK and internationally right now – and not just by people who have high profiles. It’s so important to me that pathways and routes are opened to everyone...
Tracy Marshall-Grant is Director of Development at the Royal Photographic Society, and an instrumental figure in the development of contemporary photography in the UK. She’s also a selector at the upcoming RWA Photo Open - a landmark exhibition for Bristol, and open to anyone to enter, whether professinal or amateur, established artist or emerging talent.
We invited Tracy to tell us a little more about her views on photography and what she will be looking for as a selector...
You’ve been a key figure in promoting photography in recent years. Can you tell us a little about your background and the role that photography plays in your life?
My background was in campaigning and development for social and health care charities, which led me into arts development jobs in America, then with an orchestra in Ireland and eventually heading up a Belfast-based photography gallery.
It was in Belfast that I met my husband – Ken Grant, who was Senior Lecturer in Photography for Ulster University. We decided to move back to his hometown of Liverpool to work on some freelance photography projects: New Brighton Revisited and Distinctly Britain. These gained a lot of press and media attention and ultimately led to me receiving some other big photography project offerings: 209 Women, The Photobook in Milan, and opportunity to direct the new Bristol Photo Festival.
I first worked with the Royal Photographic Society on a Holocaust Memorial Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, which led to my current role I have with them: Director of Development, responsible for developing new membership products and creating pathways for funding the Photography for Everyone strategy. The role has been interesting, and challenging in the current economic climate, but rewarding. I am moving on in the new year to a new post as Deputy Director of the new Centre for British Photography in London, due to open in late January.
Alongside these jobs has always been a desire to work with photography archives. I’ve been producing Martin Parr’s Irish Retrospective since 2016, touring Ireland, Boston’s McMullan Museum and soon in Paris.
Ken and I have also jointly produced the Chris Killip Retrospective book and exhibition – an amazing and special experience. The exhibition is on until February at The Photographers Gallery and the Thames & Hudson book is just out now too.
As you might see from all this, there is not much space in my life for anything other than photography! And even when I travel, read, walk or run I’m continually thinking about the latest or the next photography projects. So I guess I am enveloped entirely in photography!
The Photo Open is part of a season of photography at the RWA, running alongside family events and a new exhibition by the internationally-acclaimed photographer Jem Southam. Why do you think it’s important for photography to be celebrated at art institutions like the RWA?
Internationally, photography has rightly sat amongst the most significant art forms in galleries and museums for a long time. But it has not always been recognised as worthy of showing in British art institutions.This changed to some extent when the TATE embraced photography with its acquisitions – such as Martin Parr’s photobook collection – and this has led the way in the UK.
Hopefully we are now at a stage where shows like the RWA Photo Open become the norm.
As a selector for the Photo Open, what will you be looking for in the submissions?
I’m hoping the submissions we receive for the Photo Open will reflect the sheer quality and range of work being produced by photographers across the UK and internationally right now – and not just by people who have had solo shows or have high profiles in galleries or collections. It’s so important to me that pathways and routes are opened to everyone and the accessibility of institutions such as the RWA is more widely known and utilised.
I also would like to see work that has commitment in it, long term work with authenticity and a real sense of ownership in the subject, community or theme. Passion and commitment are at the heart of what I ook for in photography.
What excites you about the photographic arts right now - in Bristol and beyond?
I am excited about the diverse and varied photographers we are getting a chance to see now. Since I began working in photography almost a decade ago there have been moves to balance representation in photography. Groups like Fast Forward Women in Photography, Firecracker and Autograph have opened up new routes and I am really looking forward to seeing how that grows.
Bristol has become a real hub for photography in recent years, with theMartin Parr Foundation establishing itself in Paintworks, RPS relocating here from Bath, publishers such as RRB Photobooks having a base in the city and galleries and institutions taking on more photography exhibitions with Bristol Photo Festival.
On the ground there are people such as Alejandro Acin and ICVisual labs working with local photographers and communities. And photography courses like those at UWE, Boomsatsuma and Bath Spa are producing fantastic new talent in the region. That’s exciting in so many ways.
Find out more and submit your work to the RWA Photo Open here. The deadline for submissions is Monday 5 December.