Interview with ICP Curator Pauline Vermare

June 6, 2016 | By French Culture Arts
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Pauline Vermare is an Associate Curator at the International Center of Photography, New York, where she has worked since 2010. We asked her about the new ICP Museum and the inaugural show, Public, Private, Secret, opening June 23.

Vermare has previously worked on the production of several groundbreaking ICP shows and publications, including “The Mexican Suitcase”, “Elliott Erwitt –Personal Best”, “Christer Strömholm –Les Amies de Place Blanche”,”Sebastião Salgado -Genesis”, “Capa in Color” and "¡Cuba, Cuba!".


Dorothée Charles (D.C.): On June 23rd, ICP opens a new museum in a new location. What are the new perspectives and approaches of the projects?

Pauline Vermare (P.V.): We are thrilled to be moving to the Bowery and join this amazingly vibrant and creative neighborhood. ICP will remain faithful to its original mission – being an open forum for dialogue about the social impact of image-making – while adapting to a radically new world: images are now produced and exchanged by millions of people globally. The new ICP space was specifically designed to be an experimental and welcoming space where photography lovers and practitioners, artists, students, and scholars alike will be able to meet and explore our visual culture and contemporary societal issues. The front of the museum will be an inviting hub featuring a bookstore curated by Spaces Corners, a French café - Maman - and free standing exhibition displays. It will also be the stage of a very ambitious series of public programming and live events. We look forward to working with our wonderful neighbors (New Museum, Tenement Museum, the many Lower East Side galleries…), and have already established a very exciting partnership with the Anthology Film Archive.

  1. D.C.: Public, Private, Secret is the title of the opening show, curated by Charlotte Cotton, Marina Chao and you. How did you select the images and organize the “sessions” of the exhibition?

P.V.: This show is really the creation of Charlotte Cotton, ICP’s extraordinary (and very first) Curator-in-Residence. Her vision of photography – its history and its place in our world - is a truly radical one that informs the show as well as the overall identity of our new space. She deliberately stays away from the didactical, the literal or the illustrational. In many ways, the show reads like a book, and stands as a proposition, a provocation, an invitation to think about the implications of our acts (or lack thereof), raising awareness and empowering the readers/viewers.

The selection of artists came organically as we were exploring the concept of privacy and its various incarnations: exhibitionism, voyeurism, intimacy, celebrity, agency, surveillance, the Other (the presumed criminal)… The boundaries and “boundarilessness” between our public, private, and secret selves.

The exhibit is composed of three layers of works that respond to each other: historical precedents, contemporary work, and real-time curation. The “classics” are mostly drawn from ICP’s extensive collections; from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Larry Clark, to Cindy Sherman, Vik Muniz or Andy Warhol - as well as private collections and galleries (such as Sophie Calle’s The Sleepers, a loan from the Paul Cooper Gallery). The contemporary work includes videos (Natalie Bookchin, Jon Rafman, Marisa Olson…) as well as prints (Lyle Ashton Harris, Trevor Paglen, Adam Broomerg & Oliver Chanarin…). The real-time curation, eight live streams of media throughout the show, will filter posts from publicly available Instagram and Twitter streams of photographs, videos, and animated GIFs, along the themes developed in the show. This eclectic ensemble composes an extremely powerful and compelling presentation.

D.C.: You will present Sophie Calle’s The Sleepers (1979-1980). Can you describe the series?

P.V.: We are delighted to present Sophie Calle’s work in this show – and particularly excited to show The Sleepers, her first series and arguably one of her most powerful. This is the result of a very thoughtful correspondence with Sophie Calle and Anthony Allen of the Paula Cooper Gallery regarding the unique place of Sophie Calle in the photography world. This series explores the questions of self-identity, intimacy, privacy, femininity, and marks the beginning of Sophie Calle’s unique, endless, personal and artistic quest, turning the seemingly most common life events into the most poetic and existential art.

About the series, she explained: “I asked people to give me a few hours of their sleep. To come and sleep in my bed. To each participant I suggested an eight hour stay. The occupation of the bed began on Sunday, April 1, 1979 at 5 p.m. and ended on Monday, April 9, at 10 a.m.”. We will be showing “Jean-Loup Forain, seventeenth sleeper” and “Gennie Michelet, thirteenth sleeper."

D.C.: You chose four portraits from the series Femmes Algériennes by Marc Garanger. Can you tell us more about the subject of these images and the impact they continue to have today? Can you describe the specific background of these portraits?

P.V.: This is an extremely powerful and particularly timely series. Marc Garanger was a 25-year-old anti-colonialist photographer when he was drafted into the French army during the Algerian War. He was commanded to make head-shots of Algerians held in regroupment villages (for control purposes, the French army wanted ID cards for all). Garanger photographed 200 people a day for ten days –mostly women, who were forced to unveil for the camera.  This act of war forced both Garanger and his sitters into resistance. While the women exude anger and defiance - shooting back, if you will, at the camera as if it were an incarnation of the French assailant - Garanger chose to photograph them in the spirit of Edward Curtis, the great American photographer whom he admired, deliberately using a wider frame and expanding the conventional mug-shot format to create individualizing, dignified portraits of these women (years later, Claude Levi-Strauss congratulated him for doing such a brilliant, ethnographer’s job). Well-aware of the importance and implications of his photographs, Garanger smuggled his negatives via Switzerland that summer, and a Swiss magazine published them at the time, however they didn’t get published in France until 1982 (for the 20th anniversary of the end of the war) by Contrejour. We still have so much difficulty talking about the Algerian war. This series constitutes the only major photographic work that directly addresses the wrongdoings of the French army at the time. It is very important – particularly for the younger generations – to see this series in today’s context, to be confronted with what happened in our relatively recent past, in order to understand the world that we live in today and the violence of our post-colonial society.  

These four portraits will be presented alongside a series of mug shots (a technique standardized by French forensic expert Alphonse Bertillon in the 1880’s) – including mid-20th century mugshots found by artist Stefan Ruiz at a flea market in Mexico city.  Together with works inspired by Antonioni’s iconic film Blow-Up (1966), these photos question the notion of the Other with all the violence, prejudice and paranoia that it entails.

D.C.: What are you planning for your forthcoming shows?

P.V.: In 2017, ICP will focus on its core subject: photography and social change. The first show, “Perpetual Revolution”, will explore the relation between the dizzying image-overloaded world we live in and the volatile social world we inhabit, the connections between the endless new streams of provocative, alluring, and often frightening media images and waves of social upheaval and transformation. The second show will be a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the legendary photo agency Magnum Photos, curated by Clément Chéroux, the photography curator of the Centre Pompidou. The third show will feature the work of Lauren Greenfield, a photographer and film maker who has been investigating materialism and consumerism in the US and throughout the world for the past twenty five years. 2018 should bring many surprises, both classic work and contemporary artists. More info here: https://www.icp.org


Before joining ICP, Pauline worked at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on the exhibition “Henri Cartier-Bresson –The Modern Century”. From 2003 to 2009, she was the head of communications and exhibitions at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris. From 2001 to 2002, she was the assistant to the head of Magnum Photos’s Paris office. Pauline holds a Masters of International Relations from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and a Masters in Japanese from INALCO (Langues’O).

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