From its start in 1986, VU’ has been known as an “agency of photographers”—in other words, a gathering of like-minded, international artists united by a shared (though individually distinctive) way of seeing the world. Over the past 30 years, it has garnered worldwide respect, both for introducing emerging talents—Munem Wasif, Maia Flore—and representing some of the great figures of contemporary photography—Vanessa Winship, JR, many others. In 1998, VU’ opened a gallery to further delve into the artistic possibilities the medium has to offer.
Xavier Soule, the owner and president of both Galerie VU’ and Agence VU’, is one of the jury members for the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2016. Below, we talk with him about his vision for VU’ as well as his thoughts on how technology is (and isn’t) shaking up the world of photography…
LC: As President and Director of Agence VU’, you must see a remarkable amount of photography. Very simply, what makes a photograph stand out to you?
XS: I constantly have images crossing my desk—in this stream, any photograph can be noteworthy. The key is context. Generally speaking, receptiveness is contextual, and my eyes focus on images that relate to my current context. To stand out, it is important to consider the viewer. Try to be aware of your audience.
Of course, an unexpected encounter can do away with all of these rules. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, though, you have to stand out. If you’re going to stand out, be different. Be different and put yourself in situations where your work will be noticed. Be different in the right place.
LC: Galerie VU’ is one of the preeminent photography galleries in Paris. What role do you see the gallery playing in photographers’ careers? How is that role similar to or different than the role of the Agency?
XS: The Gallery and the Agency share the same mission: we want to find the best buyers for our artists’ works. Our aim is to gather great photographers and create a network of proactive, stimulating people: reviewers, artists, collectors etc.
The Gallery and Agency balance each other well: while the Agency is more of an advocacy and support system, the Gallery adds an amazing architectural space where we can hang and present our pictures. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our artists. We think about art and storytelling differently, but in the end we’re always considering the same question: how do we (and our artists) record and perceive the world around us?
LC: As CEO of Abvent Group—which includes Agence VU’, Galerie VU’, and Abvent, a digital technology provider—you have a unique perspective on the art world. Do you see technology as playing a significant role in the future of artistic promotion?
XS: This is hardly the future—this is what we deal with every day, right now. First of all, contemporary technology and tools are providing powerful marketing tools for photographers. These tools are radically modifying our processes and changing how we interact with consumers. It’s true that digital images now travel instantly across the world, but space and time are scalable.
Abvent is the leader in 108 countries for 3D immersive technology and BIM cloud computing. Nevertheless, the technology doesn’t really change the practice of how we—as art consumers—view work online (even if we’re introducing drone cameras or real-time virtual reality).
Regardless of what technology results from high-tech equipment, disruptive marketing, or new sales strategies, at the Gallery and Agency, we focus on promoting and engaging with the always distinctive art made by our artists.
LC: You’re a frequent jury member for competitions and calls around the world. Is looking at submissions for competitions different than considering photographers to promote at Galerie VU’? Do you consider a different set of criteria? If so, how is it different?
XS: The biggest difference is that the Gallery has one basic mission: we want to connect artists and collectors. We have a limited group of prospective customers, and they may not buy any of our photos—no matter how great I think the work is.
I enjoy photography made by all different types of artists, and my personal collection isn’t necessarily a catalogue of the best VU’ exhibitions. So in that way, the work we consider for the gallery is different than work that I like personally.
LC: Do you have different metrics in mind when you’re considering entries for an “emerging talent” award? What can emerging talents do to stand out from the crowd in the context of a competition (or in the crowded marketplace of image-makers working today)?
XS: Be different from the artists around you. Be unique. Make work that will be remarkable to those who see it.
—Xavier Soule, interviewed by Coralie Kraft
Editors’ Note: Xavier Soule will be judging entries to the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2016—enter now for your chance to get your work in front of Soule and the rest of the world-class jury. There are also a host of other great awards. You can find out more about the competition on its Call for Entries.