Meet BJP International Photography Award 2019 judge Sarah Allen, Assistant Curator at Tate Modern

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In the second of our interviews with BJP IPA 2019’s judges, we meet Sarah Allen. As assistant curator at Tate Modern, Allen has worked on a number of major shows, the most recent being Shape of Light, the first blockbuster exhibition to explore the relationship between photography and abstract art.

Before moving to Tate Modern, Allen worked at a string of leading galleries, including The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, The Guggenheim Museum in New York, and The Photographers’ Gallery, London. Among the high-profile photographers she’s worked with is Mark Ruwedel, who recently made it on to the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2019 shortlist with his show The Artist and Society, curated by Allen.

We spoke to her about how to get noticed by curators, and what she’s looking forward to seeing in BJP IPA 2019.

Shape of Light: Maya Rochat (b.1985) A Rock Is A River 2018, Tate Modern install view Courtesy Lily Robert and VITRINE, London | Basel © Maya Rochat Photo: © Tate (Seraphina Neville)

What are the most exciting things happening in photography at the moment? And what trends do you think we’ll see in 2019?

I think there is some extremely important work being made at the moment on the subject of women, which certainly takes on more resonance in the wake of #MeToo – Laia Abril On Abortion and Carmen Winant My Birth come to mind, but also the new 10 x 10 publication How We See: Photobooks by Women.

There is also great work being made on LGBTQI+ issues, and I think we’ll see more of this in 2019. Although a video work, it’s worth mentioning Charlotte Prodger, who has just won the Turner Prize.

From On Abortion © Laia Abril

What makes a photographic project compelling to you?

I’m not sure there is a golden formula for a compelling project, but having a unique take on a subject is key. I think it’s always important to be driven by intuition, and to avoid the burden of work by other artists that have come before you. The editing and sequencing of a series is also really important – I’m particularly interested in how a narrative builds from image to image.

What kinds of images are you hoping to see entered into BJP IPA 2019?

Personally, I hope to see images that respond to our current political moment – projects that tackle the turn towards isolationism, but do so in a surprising way. I am always eager to see work emerging around the globe – particularly Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Finally, it would be great to see projects by photographers working at the edges of the medium.

Shape of Light: Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) Untitled (Uranium Green)1992, Tate Modern install view Hans Georg Näder © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018
Photo: © Tate (Seraphina Neville)

How do you think photographers – both emerging and established – can benefit from entering photography awards like BJP IPA?

BJP IPA is an excellent platform to have your work seen by curators, publishers and editors. Many of these industry professionals will look to winners and runners-up in these competitions as a very quick way to gain an insight into new talent.

What advice would you give to photographers about being noticed by curators?

Photobooks are an excellent way to get your work noticed. Some success stories have started off as self-published photobooks. The book may lead to a significant review or a show. At Tate we have discovered artists we want to work with or even collect through first seeing their work in photobook form.

It’s also great to visit the big photo festivals such as Les Rencontres d’Arles, as many industry professionals will descend for opening week. The quality of the work on show will hopefully mean you leave much more inspired than when you arrived.

Less than 2 weeks to enter your work! Want to be in with a chance of winning a solo show at gallery TJ Boulting, London, UK? BJP IPA 2019 closes on 20 December 2018 – 4pm GMT. Don’t miss out – apply today!

How We See – Photobooks by Women, edited by Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, and Michael Lang