Juliet Hacking / An Interview with Juliet Hacking, Programme Director, MA Photography at Sotheby’s Institute

Juliet Hacking / An Interview with Juliet Hacking, Programme Director, MA Photography at Sotheby’s Institute

As part of this section of features on Photomonitor, we speak with photography professionals within a number of sectors including museums, publishing, academia, auction houses – and today we are pleased to be speaking with Dr Juliet Hacking, course director of the PGdip / MA in Photography (MAP) at Sotheby’s Institute in London, who has achieved notable success in all of these areas.  Below, Christiane Monarchi finds out a bit more about Juliet’s current projects in photographic research, and future plans for the post graduate photography course at Sotheby’s.


Christiane Monarchi: In looking back over your career to date, you have embraced writing, curating, lecturing, academic research, business development and appraising photographic artworks through Sotheby’s auction house, and most recently leading an academic programme at Sotheby’s Institute and editing a major photographic book.  What has been the starting point for your career trajectory involving enquiry into so many aspects of photography?

Juliet Hacking: I originally studied History of Art at the Courtauld Institute and on the MA Programme on 19th Century London and Paris was assigned a paper on John Thomson and ‘Street Life in London’. At that time, I held the conventional view that photography was a lesser art than painting and I think that I was a little annoyed to be given this topic! I quickly discovered that 19th century photography was my perfect medium in terms of both visual delight and my interest in political, economic and social analysis. When it came to choosing an MA topic, and later the subject for my PhD, I decided that I would prefer to be one of a smaller number of 19th century photographic historians than one of many, many 19th century art historians.

I fell into the job of junior cataloguer at Sotheby’s; I was at the time very ‘snooty’ about becoming involved with commerce. This was partly because at a careers event at the Courtauld an auction specialist announced that the auction houses did not like to hire people with specialist knowledge. Working at the auction house turned out to be a fantastic thing to do: it enhanced my specialist knowledge of the 19th century, taught me about 20th and 21st century photography, introduced me to many of the key players in the world of photography, taught me business and planning skills, and allowed for me to travel. When, after 3 years, there was a reorganisation of the department, I was made Head.

I enjoyed working so much at the auction house that I doubt I would have left except for one opportunity: to design and run an MA solely dedicated the history and theory of photography. When I heard that Sotheby’s Institute of Art were seeking to set up such an MA, I knew that’s what I wanted to do next.


CM: In addition to previous books, published articles and reviews, you have recently edited the 576-page tome Photography: The Whole Story (Thames & Hudson) whose subject dovetails nicely into the curriculum you have created at Sotheby’s.  How have your research interests developed over the years, and do you have a favourite time period?

JH: Editing Photography: The Whole Story was an ideal brief for me as I felt I had a really good overview of the entire history of photography from pre-1839 photographic experimentation until the present day so could shape and guide this survey and choose the images. When I speak at academic conferences however I still generally present research on the 19th century: having immersed myself in the subject for my PhD when there was so little digitisation of collections, and many less exhibitions and other resources, it is thrilling to make connections that were not possible in the mid-late 1990s. However I am always interested to take on other research projects and through our strand on Global Photography came to research Contemporary Photography from China. I examine this in relation to English-language interpretation and market imperatives.    


CM: Do you have any current research interests that may see their way into a publication in the near term?  

JH: I have worked up the lecture on Contemporary Photography from China as an article and I hope to see that published in the near future. I am currently working on a book provisionally entitled Lives of the Great Photographers for Thames & Hudson which is due for publication in 2015. After that I am going to collaborate on a book with Simone Klein of Sotheby’s Paris regarding the market for Photographs (Lund Humphries). This will bring together my professional experience with my research and teaching on the history and development of the trade in photographs as art objects. One answer to the question ‘when did photography become art?’ is ‘when it became traded as art’.


CM: Another busy term at Sotheby’s Institute has just begun, and I’m interested in learning more about the MAP programme – in its eighth year, a relatively new programme for the Institute, but one which seems to have grown very rapidly in scale and reputation.  Could you tell me a bit more about the background to the creation of MAP, and how you have positioned it relative to other available postgraduate courses? It seems to be unique in its scope of historical and contemporary subjects taught.  

JH: The idea of setting up an MA in the history and theory of photography was Tony Godfrey’s (a previous Director of Sotheby’s Institute). He also ran the MA in Contemporary Art and so came to the subject through contemporary art. He asked Susan Bright to make the proposal to the University of Manchester, our validation partner. When I joined the Institute in the summer of 2006 I had eight weeks to develop the MA from the documentation, which was, er, exhilarating. I did not really have to think about positioning the MA in terms of the competition because at that time there really wasn’t any. Now we do have competitors but, as you say, the scope of our teaching (from pre-1839 to present day, embracing both the Western canon and how non-Western practices problematize and re-define the canon, the intersection of photography and critical theory, and a structural analysis of the photography world [including the market]) is very distinctive.   


CM: What kind of students does MAP attract, both in terms of experience and geography?

JH: The wonderful thing about MAP is there is no such thing as a typical student. We get a wide range of nationalities (in addition to British students) it is possible to divide them broadly into two groups: those who come from a country like the US, France or Germany with a robust photographic culture, and those who come from countries that have very little photographic culture (I won’t name them!) who wish to develop that culture in their future career. This year we have Britain, the US, Hungary, Turkey and Greece represented.

In terms of experience, we have students fresh out of university, a couple of years after university, career-changers, and students who take the course for interest only.


CM: While on the course, what kind of exposure to MAP students get to the various aspects of the photographic world?  

JH: We try to expose the MAP students to as many of the different ways of working with photographs, and thinking about photography, as possible. So in addition to the leading academic guest speakers, such as Julian Stallabrass and Christopher Pinney, they will meet with figures from the gallery world, curating, editing, book-publishing and/or collecting, conservation, art law, art business and marketing. The business and marketing elements are linked to a project they undertake which asks them to project-manage the proposal for a hypothetical exhibition or new journal.


CM: Could you tell us what some of your students from MAP have gone on to do after graduation?

JH: Here is just a small sample:

PhD: Tate Gallery/University of Essex;
PhD: University of London, Birkbeck
PhD: University of London, UCL
Junior Specialist, Photographs Dept, Christie’s London
Photographs Specialist, Bloomsbury Auctions, London
Photographs Specialist, Swann Auctions, NYC
Appraiser (also in charge of Photographs sales), Freeman’s Auctions, Philadelphia
Photographs Appraiser, Penelope Dixon & Associates, NYC
Studio Manager for Alex Prager, NYC
Studio Manager for Platon, NYC
Director, Eric Franck Fine Art, London
Director, Alan Klotz Gallery, NYC
Assistant Director, HackelBury  Fine Art, London
Sales, James Hyman Gallery
Artist Liaison & Sales, Gagosian, London


CM: Thank you for your time, Juliet, and we look forward to news of your upcoming publications.  


Further information: 

Sotheby’s Institute London- MA Photography: Contemporary & Historical

Photography: The Whole Story (Thames & Hudson, 2012) edited by Juliet Hacking