An exhibition of images by 58 ÉCAL photography students opens this weekend at the Carla Sozzani gallery in Milan. It is accompanied by a handsome 300-page book, 'ÉCAL Photography', edited by the Swiss art and design school's director Alexis Georgacopoulos, curator Nathalie Herschdorfer, and Milo Keller, ÉCAL's head of bachelor photography. It includes interviews with visiting artists and photographers including Paolo Roversi, Maurice Scheltens, Adam Broomberg and Jason Evans. It is a kind of case for the defence.
Photography is in something of crisis. It has become an everyday, all-the-time medium. Everyone does it. And even if you're a stranger to f stops, you can crop, add a border and a vintagey wash and suddenly those snaps look pretty cool. Or you can let Hipstamatic do all that for you.
As ÉCAL director Alexis Georgacopoulos acknowledges in his intro to 'ÉCAL Photography', this democratisation and de-skilling, and the growth of social network 'galleries', even raises questions about photography's place in the 'academy'. 'If anybody can produce images, often manipulated and embellished by the magic of automatic retouching software, should we still be teaching this art at degree level?' he asks. 'Shouldn't we let everybody create their own iconographic culture, take an empirical approach to learning techniques for themselves, share their own images on the web…gauge the quality of the images by how many likes they get?'
The book and the exhibition is the counter argument, 'a new statement at a time when the stakes have been raised'. You don't become this good and interesting by posting on Instagram. Photography students, he argues, 'have the right to make mistakes, but also the right to be corrected.' The exhibition is a defence of academic rigour in the face of rampant amateurism.