One of the most popular photography shows in our area gets underway this week. While everyone recognizes the DCist Exposed Photography Show as a product of DCist, the machine behind the show itself is Heather Goss, one of the main proponents of photography in Washington, D.C. Heather and her organization Ten Miles Square work with other local groups to sponsor photography-based exhibits that provide a platform for both emerging and established artists and expand photographic culture within and beyond the traditional gallery art genre.
The popularity and growth of Exposed has continued through five consecutive years with long lines that test occupancy limits even in bad weather. In an effort to pass the reigns so she can take a break and focus on other projects, Heather stepped back a little this year while James Calder and Samer Farha took over the show’s planning. Not someone to let free time go unused, she refocused her energy toward the production of a fifth year anniversary retrospective magazine which highlights nearly every photograph shown in the show.
Heather is also a close friend, so I took the opportunity to ask a few important questions about Exposed, her involvement with DCist and Ten Miles Square, thoughts about photography in our area, dancing kitty videos, and space travel.
Heather Goss, Photo by Brian W. Knight
The DCist Exposed Photography show has been one of the area's most successful photography shows, getting bigger every year. How did the idea for the show come about and how did you get started with DCist?
HG: I started writing for DCist in January 2006. I had just graduated law school and, as my student loans started coming in the mail, was looking for cheap/free things to do for entertainment. I lived on U Street and started going to the local art galleries and writing my thoughts on my then-existing blog. Eventually a local art writer found it and directed me to the arts editor at DCist, where they happened to be looking for some new writers. It was one of those wonderful moments that makes me love Washington -- I put myself out there a teeny bit, met someone who knew someone who knew someone, and got hooked up big time.
Soon after I began at DCist, I started helping a great photographer, Kyle Gustafson, with our Photo of the Day feature. One day we met for a beer when he ran the idea of doing some kind of gallery show by me. We talked about how great our Flickr photo pool was, and how it wouldn’t be hard at all to find a selection of amazing D.C. photography. And thus, over a beer, Exposed was born.
What were your goals for Exposed and how have they evolved since the first show at the Warehouse gallery in 2007? Did you always envision it as a yearly event, growing as much as it has?
HG: Initially our main goals were, first, for the show to be a “thank you” to the many photographers who submit their work to DCist and, second -- with the nation’s capital being one of the most photographed cities in the world -- as a display of real, non-tourist images, taken by people who live and work here. We never expected the huge number of people who came to our first show, but it became clear pretty quickly that we’d discovered a niche that needed to be filled and it was an easy decision to make it an annual event.
Nevertheless, I’m still shocked at how many people submit their photos to our contest (over 400 this year), how many people attend the opening reception (1600 last year) and how many people buy photos off the wall to take home with them. Inadvertently, Exposed became a catalyst for the local photography community -- a vehicle for artists to meet in person, share ideas and be inspired. For me, that has become the most rewarding outcome.
This year, our fifth, we were able to create a special edition magazine featuring all of the Exposed winners. It was an overwhelming and impressive display of the community Exposed has created, because it never could have happened without the support of all the photographers who’ve been involved since the beginning, and a large number of volunteers who donated their time, skills and even their money.
Each year the openings become more and more packed, with lines extending down the block. Do you attribute the crowd to exposure on DCist, the photographers whose work is in the show, fans of photography, or all of the above?
HG: It’s certainly a combination of many factors. One is easy: there are usually around 40 photographers in the show. If they all bring a couple friends, that’s a few hundred people right away. Second, DCist, a website about Washington, D.C. news, arts and entertainment, has grown exponentially since it launched six years ago, drawing an audience of readers who want to know more about the city -- it’s not a big leap that many of them would also come out to support local artists in a show featuring District culture. We’ve also been lucky to have the support of many other local media outlets, including the Washington Post; we’re always mildly surprised at how many visitors come to the opening and ask, “What’s DCist?” (We’re happy to tell them!)
But those are just the ways people find out about the show. We think people actually leave their homes and come out to the show because it’s an accessible, relatable art experience. Whether you were born and raised in D.C. or just moved here a year ago, the images in the show are recognizable parts of our daily lives. Often people tell me they purchased a print because it was their favorite place in D.C. or they had some amazing memory there, and the photographer was able to capture the specialness it held for them. Exposed can bring us together under those shared experiences.
What are your thoughts about photography in Washington, D.C. and where do you see it heading?
HG: I may have a warped view, just because I’ve been lucky enough to see the community around Exposed grow, but I believe Washington, D.C. is a great place for photography. With everything from fun, amateur photography to more professional experiences, there’s a wide range for anyone who wants to pick up a camera. We have a ton of blogs, like DCist, that encourage off-the-cuff, take-your-camera-wherever-you-go style street and documentary photography, while in the last few years, alternative art events have popped up all over the place for people who are inspired to delve into real artwork or just do some creative experimenting. There’s this stigma that D.C. isn’t New York, or whatever, and for that I’m glad. I think we have a more relaxed atmosphere that allows people to play, and not be intimidated from showing their work to people, if, for instance, someone is “just” a lawyer who also happens to have a great eye behind the lens. This atmosphere also lets people who *do* want to become professional photographers or artists to get started early and get a taste for what it feels like to show their work off to lots of people, be critiqued, and be seen by people who will continue to follow their work as it develops.
Tell us a little about your organization Ten Miles Square and the types of projects it is involved in.
HG: Ten Miles Square evolved from the photographers, gallery owners, and art supporters I met through Exposed. Exposed is a huge event that takes five months to plan and organize every year, so I conceived Ten Miles Square as a way to keep working with photographers throughout the year. We’ve thrown both large (our first “Fixation” exhibition during FotoWeekDC was written up by the Washington Post as a prime example of alternative art events) and small events, and everything in between. It’s been a great way to take photographers I discover through Exposed -- where we just feature one image -- and work with them to create a more personal, thought-out exhibit of their work.
I look at Ten Miles Square as a bridge, where the photographer needs to take their existing skills and start to develop a personal sense of creativity in their work by putting pieces together. Additionally, I usually work with alternative spaces, so it’s a great way to get people to come out to a new venue, take in some art, and further develop that community of artists and art supporters. Also, it’s fun!
(Incidentally, I became involved with the FotoWeekDC blog when I assisted Heather in covering the 2008 festival and also with DCist when I began writing the Arts Agenda, under Heather's editorial guidance - Angela).
You are the Managing & Arts Editor at DCist - What does that mean?
HG: They’re actually two positions. I became the Arts Editor in 2007, watching over a group of very talented visual art, theater, dance, film and classical music critics, and covering news and developments in the local art scene. Then we created the new position of Managing Editor in 2008 when DCist got big enough to have a full-time Editor-in-Chief. As Managing Editor most of my work is behind-the-scenes, assisting our Editor-in-Chief in running the site, working with our writing and photography staff, and developing stories.
But, you're more than just art and photography. How many shuttle launches have you been to?
HG: I’ve been to four! I’d tried to see launches a few times when I was younger, but the stars finally aligned when I decided to make a trip to see Atlantis launch for my 30th birthday in 2009. Then, well, I got addicted, as many do. I’m going to try to make it five by the time the shuttle program ends this summer.
Is there one thing you would like everyone on the planet to know about space?
HG: It’s important to explore -- whether it’s space or the oceans or the garden in your backyard, we should allow ourselves to be awed daily by this crazy world we live in.
You’re pretty busy - what are some of the other outlets where we can read your writing?
HG: Aside from DCist, I also write at Aviation Week’s On Space blog, usually about our exploration of the Sun and planets in our solar system. You can also dig up some of my work at Washingtonian.com, where I wrote a weekly column about my home renovation experience, and at FotoweekDC, where I edited the blog during their inaugural year.
Where can someone in Washington, D.C. go to increase their sun exposure?
HG: As many know, my favorite place to soak up some sun is the Public Observatory at the National Air & Space Museum on the Mall, where I volunteer once a week. Every Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors can look through a variety of solar telescopes and see real views of giant sunspots and plasma-shooting prominences, and talk to science educators about what they’re seeing. The sun is going into solar maximum so there’s something new to look at almost every day.
So, there you have it. I've had the opportunity to work with Heather as both an artist and a writer on numerous projects - she is one of the hardest working people I know. She isn't always about work, however, and can occassionaly be found forwarding kitty videos, spending time with her own cat, Amos, or hanging out with space shuttles. Follow her projects through Ten Miles Square and be sure to say hello if you see her at Exposed!
Exposed 2011 opened last night with the first of two opening receptions for the fifth annual DCist Exposed Photography Show. While advance tickets for tonight's second event are sold out, a limited number of $15 door tickets will be available, based around Long View Gallery's maximum occupancy. (Please note that those with advance tickets will have priority admission.) The show remains open and free of charge through March 27 at Long View Gallery.