Robert Hirsch

An Interview with Robert Hirsch
Tom Persinger: The Genesis of f295

Photo Ed, Spring, 2009, 11.

By Robert Hirsch

Robert Hirsch: What is F295?

Tom Persinger: F295 is an international organization that promotes a heterogeneous photographic approach, incorporating any and all photographic methods to create a new “21st Century Photography.” F295 consists of an interactive web community with over 2000 participants and the F295 seminars and the annual F295 symposium. These constituent elements provide unique means to investigate the innovative values of 21st Century Photography, including the themes of light, time, and the photographic apparatus. The seminars and symposia explore these topics through the diverse photographic experiences, exhibitions, lectures, and workshops conducted by leading practitioners.

RH: How did F295 come into existence?

TP: In June 2004, I took the first steps on what has become a remarkable journey. It began with a straightforward mission: to start a website about pinhole photography that could connect likeminded people who were seeking to discover and learn more about this simple, yet not unsophisticated, form of picture making. This common denominator of visual expression captured the imagination of photographers around the world and helped to break down some of the conventional views about photographic practice. By setting aside members’ artistic and cultural differences, F295 was able to facilitate and promote a constructive, critical, and compassionate dialogue focusing on the art and practice of photography. The unexpected exponential growth of the website made it apparent that there were many people making pictures through the use of hybrid photographic methods, which were not easy to categorize and had no public outlet. Based on this realization, I expanded F295’s focus to encompass this compelling new direction in contemporary photography, which in late 2008 I began calling 21st Century Photography.

RH: How do you define 21st Century Photography?

TP: 21st Century Photography emphasizes the creative vision of photographers by declaring that digital techniques, historic processes, and handmade or adaptive techniques can be freely combined. I think this work reflects a maturation of aesthetic and conceptual thinking by photographers who seek to push the boundaries of their practice.

RH: Why is this significant?

TP: This expansive definition describes a photographic approach in which the hand of the maker is actively visible in creating context and meaning by extraordinary means. The decision regarding which methods to employ is determined by the photographer’s artistic vision and is not limited in the utilization of equipment and technology. Previously, terms such as alternative, historic, hand-wrought, DIY [do-it-yourself], and antiquarian were used to describe this type of work. Unfortunately, these terms often carry negative connotations and fail to accurately convey the haptic mindset of the makers who consciously place themselves into the image-making process. Acknowledging its simplicity, I strongly think the photographic field needs to accept this methodology. It is of critical importance in lieu of the fact that mainline critics, curators, galleries, and museums largely ignore this significant range of contemporary practice.

RH: What are F295’s major accomplishments thus far?

TP: Besides the three symposia, F295 has staged two seminars and has an upcoming one in San Francisco. When this year’s symposium wraps up at the end of May these events will have hosted 25 speakers, 30 workshops, 8 exhibitions and welcomed attendees from around the world. The symposium workshop series, hosted by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, gives participants the opportunity to see and engage in a variety of historic processes. I am most satisfied with the F295 online community, which now has over 2000 registered participants on six continents. The site is a virtual United Nations of photography, which has had visitors from over 170 different countries. The site helps set in motion a global dialogue - one in which people from diverse backgrounds overcome geographic distance to find common ground in the pursuit of the photographic arts. Here you can see photographs and engage in dialogue with artists anywhere on the planet.

RH: What does F295 have planned for the near future?

TP: I’m exploring new ways to conduct workshops, disseminate information, and enable learning. My goal is to make the many forms of photography accessible to anyone in the world. To accomplish this, I am adding content to featuring podcasts from the seminars and symposia and pulling together a workshop video podcast series. These interactive podcasts will combine a web-delivered audiovisual presentation with an Internet-based conference call to the workshop leader/ process expert. I’m also investigating ways F295 can assist photographers and writers to get their images and texts quickly to the public. Currently, I’m planning the 2011 symposium. It has been an annual event, but the time has come to take a step back so we can complete another exciting project. I have begun a manuscript about F295 and the concept of 21st Century Photography, grounded in the texts and images of the previous symposia and seminars. The manuscript’s goal is to define and reinforce the importance of 21st Century Photography in the canon of contemporary photography.

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