Michael Famighetti has been at the helm of Aperture magazine, one of the photography world’s most respected publications, since its relaunch in the spring of 2013. The publication, based in New York City, has been at the vanguard of contemporary photography since its inception more than 50 years ago. In recent years, the magazine’s themed issues have focused on critical topics like Future Gender, Prison Nation, and the award-winning Vision & Justice, an issue dedicated to photography of the black experience, edited by Harvard professor Sarah Lewis and Famighetti.
We’re thrilled that Famighetti has agreed to serve as a member of the jury for our current Art Photography Awards. For these awards, we are considering all types of photographic art; we want to discover new, thought-provoking approaches to the photographic medium, and we’re glad to have Famighetti’s experienced eye on our jury panel.
Curious to hear from Famighetti himself, Coralie Kraft reached out to Aperture’s editor in 2018 for an interview about the history of Aperture and Famighetti’s perspective on the development of art photography.
Cover image © John Chiara
LC: As Editor of Aperture, what position do you hope the magazine occupies in the world at large? Given its history, is Aperture in a unique position to discuss imagery in the landscape of contemporary photography? Personally, what do you hope the magazine is able to address, and what topics are you interested in pursuing?
MF: I’m interested in creating a context for photographs and in considering photography in a broader social and historical sense. We live in a world awash in images. With a print magazine, we have the opportunity to slow things down—to make careful decisions about individual images, related pieces of writing, aspects of the design, the quality of reproduction, and so forth. Each part of the magazine is carefully crafted: even the typefaces were drawn specifically for us.
Aperture has an incredible history. For me, it’s essential to honor that history and the founders’ original motivations and ideas, while responding to an evolving field. We produced an issue called “Vision & Justice,” for which I worked with a guest editor, the Harvard art historian Sarah Lewis. The issue was grounded in the visionary thinking of Frederick Douglass; it explored representations of African-American life in photography.
The lineup for that issue was truly exciting, with figures from art history, literature, theatre, and cinema. Meanwhile, the sweep of imagery, from the 19th century through today, was emblematic of what, I think, we’re uniquely positioned to do: to think about photography as it stands at the intersection of many fields, ideas and conversations.
LC: Aperture underwent a significant redesign and relaunch in 2013. Can you tell us a little about what inspired the reinvention of the magazine? Do you and your editorial team have specific goals in mind for the new Aperture?
MF: Publications evolve—Aperture has had a number of formats and designs across its history. It had been many years since the publication had been redesigned, and we felt it was time.
The redesign in part addressed how the field had changed as a result of the rise of digital platforms, which radically changed both photography and publishing. The magazine became more like a book—each issue has a thematic approach to organizing content, more pages, more writing, in-depth interviews with leading photographers, etc.
If you’re making something in print today, you want people to want to hang onto it. So we were thinking a great deal about the qualities—tactility, ink on paper—that only a physical object can deliver.
LC: Has working as an editor for Aperture changed how you see photography? If so, in what way?
MF: I think it allows me to have an expansive idea of photography, as we publish a broad range of work that looks at both the history of the medium and contemporary practices. We work to be global and represent a range of histories and narratives of photography. It’s exciting to continually be exposed to new work and ideas.
LC: You’ve been a frequent portfolio reviewer and jury member for competitions and reviews around the world. What are a few pieces of advice you find yourself offering most frequently to aspiring or emerging photographers who are looking to advance their careers?
MF: Be curious and read up on the history of photography. I am often surprised during reviews when photographers don’t know some of the key names and projects in the medium. I also want to know what people are reading—novels, non-fiction, daily journalism. In short: what’s informing how you look at the world?
LC: Is looking at submissions for competitions different than considering photographers to include in your magazine? Do you consider a different set of criteria?
MF: The magazine is thematic, so I’m usually looking for work that fits a number of the themes that we’re focusing on. Meanwhile, competitions can be useful because you never know what you’re going to see. I appreciate that element of surprise.
LC: Finally, do you have different metrics or criteria in mind when you’re considering entries for an award? What can photographers do to stand out from the crowd in the context of a competition?
MF: Fundamentally, I’d say I’m looking for work that feels smart, thoughtful, and resolved.
—Michael Famighetti, interviewed by Coralie Kraft
Our Art Photography Awards are open for entries! Submit your work to have it seen by jurors like Famighetti as well as international museum curators, gallery owners, and magazine editors. Deadline: December 15, 2022. Enter today!