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Five Questions for Chuck Mobley, SF Camerawork

Chuck Mobley
Chuck Mobley
from Roger Sayre's Sitting (One-Hour Exposure)
Included in the exhibition:
I feel I am free but I know I am not
September 4 - November 1, 2008

For the second installment of our 15th Anniversary Project, we are proud to present Five Questions for Chuck Mobley, the newly-named Director of SF Camerawork. The non-profit gallery has been presenting innovative photography exhibitions and providing broad-based support and exposure to emerging photographers in the Bay Area since 1974.

I met Chuck in 1999 when I first showed Marco Breuer's work, and not long after he arrived in the Bay Area. I have always been impressed by his openness to all approaches in photography, his wide-ranging knowledge of the photo community, and the sense of fun he brings to everything he does. And I’m grateful that he gamely agreed to answer a few questions.

Katrina Traywick: First, some background. How long have you been in the Bay Area, and were you connected to the photography world prior to SF Camerawork?

Chuck Mobley: I went to art school for photography and realized very quickly that I didn’t want to be an artist. It seemed like too solitary an endeavor plus I had no talent or self-discipline. I like being around people and having a structured environment in which to work. I moved to the Bay Area in late June 1999 and 2 months later began an internship at Camerawork. A year later I was asked by the former director (the late Marnie Gillett) to be the gallery manager. In the spring of 2005 I was asked to apply for the associate director position and was hired. In June 2011 I was asked to be the director beginning January 2012.

SF Camerawork
The new SF Camerawork location
Photo credit: Jensen Architects, San Francisco

Traywick: What’s your vision for Camerawork, and how will the new space play into that?

Mobley: The idea to move to a new space was entirely pragmatic from a financial standpoint, but afforded us the opportunity to get back to our roots in a way. That is, reduce the exhibition footprint and put the focus on engagement through public programs and work with photographers who’ve not yet had solo exhibitions or publications. In an era of decentralization and dematerialization to have an actual physical space is an almost radical undertaking and idea, but I think it’s a fundamental need or desire to have some touchstones; to have a place outside of one’s home or studio to call your own.

That said, any vision or ideas I hold have been formed by getting to work with truly fantastic people over the years. As of this writing, we’re still working out details, but the basic outline is that Camerawork will have working artists once again involved in all aspects of the programming. I’m going to focus on the main responsibilities of a director which are development and fundraising. Any artistic vision going forward will be shared with artists. We’re going to take our lead from the people making art.

Traywick: Photography has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. What do you see as some of the biggest/most interesting changes?

Mobley: Perhaps the biggest changes are the most obvious: the digital era. There are a lot of people who learned the medium through analog means so they utilize that or a hybrid analog/digital process. I think the most interesting part of this digital turn is how artists are taking into consideration the photograph as a material object.

Katsushige Nakahashi
Katsushige Nakahashi
The Depth of Memory
January 3 - March 22, 2008

Traywick: What is the best photography show you’ve seen recently?

Mobley: Probably a more interesting answer are the exhibitions I didn’t get to see. This is mildly embarrassing to admit, but there are exhibitions that enveloped me in a profound sense of professional jealousy and tend to haunt me. For example, the group exhibition Camera/Action at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago (October 15 - December 23, 2004, curated by Karen Irvine), Anne Collier’s survey at Presentation House in Vancouver (January 26 - March 2, 2008, curated by Reid Shier), and TASK+ selected work by Oliver Herring at Illinois State University in Normal (February 16 - March 28, 2010, curated by Barry Blinderman and Kendra Paitz).

I wish I’d seen Camera/Action at MoCP. At the time I was working on developing an exhibition exploring photography’s relationship to performance art and Karen beat me to it. She is, hands down, the most interesting photography curator in the U.S. Also, I wish I had curated the Anne Collier and Oliver Herring exhibitions. I’ve never gotten to work with Anne and would love to; her Vancouver exhibition would have been perfect at Camerawork. I included Oliver in a group exhibition in 2008, but after seeing the installation photographs of his exhibition in Illinois I regretted not having offered him a solo exhibition.

Traywick: One of the many artists who have brought us together is Marco Breuer. Traywick Contemporary is excited to show a range of his work, produced over a 10 year span, in our current show Beyond the Lens, Breuer’s work engages the history, the material, and the unexplored possibilities of photography, all without ever really taking a straightforward photograph. What are your thoughts about Breuer’s approach?

Mobley: I guess in some ways it makes sense that he should approach the materiality of the analog photographic process during the era of its demise. However, what’s remarkable is that no one has approached the medium the way he has with such astonishing results. His exploration of (nearly antiquated) industrially produced photographic material reveals layers, sometimes literally, that have always been there but we’ve not seen.