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A Look Inside Endia Beal’s Process For Curating Photographs

Deciding which photos to share with the world is a challenge for any photographer. Sony shooters curate the photos they share for social media and other projects all the time, and the task can be daunting for those with a large portfolio of solid work. How do you efficiently curate images? Where do you even begin? 

We asked artist, educator and curator Endia Beal, who is a fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership and has completed residencies at Harvard Art Museums, the Center for Photography at Woodstock and McColl Center for Art + Innovation, to give us an inside look at her process. The Sony Artisan recently curated the Women Photograph: 2022 Year In Pictures photo essay, showcasing the work of 100 of the organization’s 1,400+ members across the globe. We connected with her to learn more about how she took on the challenge of taking 700 images and curating them into this photo essay of 100. (Note: Beal is also currently curating images from the Alpha Female+ weekly micro-grant competitions. Join the Alpha Female+ Group on Facebook to learn more.)

Sony Artisan Endia Beal has extensive education and experience in the art of curation. We connect with her to learn more about how she does it.

Beal says when she was asked to curate the Women Photograph: 2022 Year In Pictures photo essay, she knew it would be a challenge. “It was over 700 photographs from women all over the world,” she explains. “When I say all over the world, I'm talking about from Africa to Ukraine to here in the United States. It was one of the hardest processes ever. It was challenging because I think a lot of these women are taking these risks and capturing stories that are, in many ways, impossible. Making sure that we see what's going on in different aspects of the world. Whether it's topics like war or immigration – some of the photographs were very heavy just to go through.”

Through the process she looks at the entire group of images about four times. “I looked at them once, just going through them and digesting. Then I looked at them more critically in a different way. And then I took a few days. And I think that it's important as a curator that, especially when you are looking at so many images, it's important that you read the descriptions, look at the photographs, and then take a moment.” She breaks down the process even more below.

First Look: Digesting & Thinking Beyond Basic Form

When going through the images the first time, Beal takes basic form as a photographer into mind. Things like framing and lighting, as well as making sure the photograph delivers exactly what the photographer wanted to say given its description. “I was looking at the photos and their descriptions while asking myself, ‘Is this photograph really capturing the narrative? Is it really speaking to the essence of what the photographer was trying to deliver in terms of the message?’ Especially when we think about photojournalism.”

Beyond basic form, Beal was also looking at whether or not the photographer was taking a risk to produce something innovative. “In terms of the framing and the storytelling the photographer was capturing in those images, how much are they really taking a risk and presenting something that hasn't been seen before in a different way?,” she asks. “Because we can talk about love, we can talk about death, we can talk about mourning and joy and all these emotional things that happen from a human perspective. Is this photographer framing a story, taking a risk in the image and giving us something new? She continues, “So the first time I went through them and that was me just digesting everything and as a photographer thinking about this global experience. 

Second Look: Creating In A Group & Capturing All Aspects

Beal then looks through the photos again, this time more critically and in a different way. “As I was curating the exhibit, I also thought about this kind of global perspective. I wanted to make sure that this year in pictures, because it is the year-end pictures, really captured various aspects that were happening across the globe from the perspective of women and thinking about how these women are shaping our narrative, shaping these experiences.”

“The content was important to me, but I was also thinking about creating a group,” she continues to explain, “because I think when you're curating a group of photographs together, you want to make sure that you're also capturing all aspects of humanity. All aspects of things that people are experiencing and various perspectives from different women all over the world. I wanted to be mindful that I wasn't choosing everything from the United States. All these different things that are happening across the globe and I wanted to make sure that I was capturing the voices of women globally, because Women Photograph is just that.”

Third Look: Take A Step Back, Then Review Again & Categorize

After looking through the submitted images and descriptions a couple times, Beal says that next you need to take a step back. “Step back from the images. Like any artist, when they're making something, they look at it and then they step back. You need to step back. For this photo essay, I stepped away from them for a few days and then came back to them again and looked at all of them a third time.”

When going through them for a third time, Beal begins placing the images into categories. For this photo essay she had a Finalists category with images she knew she wanted to include in the final essay, and then a Runner-Up category with images that could possibly be a part of the group but needed more review.

Fourth Look: Review The Categories To Make The Final Cut

Next she goes through her final categories to review her top choices a fourth time and narrow them down to 100. “I was thinking about those global perspectives,” she says. “I was thinking about execution, I was thinking about content and also innovation. Because I think as photographers, we have to ask ourselves where do we fit within the history of photography? And I know a lot of people don't think about it that way, but the history of photography specifically for women is still being written. So for me it was, ‘How can I select a group of women that are adding to that history by creating images that are speaking, literally transcending, the ideas of photography and really pushing that narrative in a real way?’ If they were innovative in their approach and they were pushing the boundaries of our medium – that to me was important. There were so many more than 100 I wanted to include, but when curating you have to stick to the space you’re given.”

The Challenge Of Curation – Creating A Narrative

Beal says that overall she thinks the biggest challenge of curating is telling the story. “As a curator, you are also telling a story. It's kind of like making a book. You are selecting things, especially when you're in a group show, and you want them to have a type of harmony where they feel like they are speaking to one another, even though they're all doing different things and all carrying different, in terms of aspects and storylines and narratives.”

She continues, “I think as a curator, you're thinking about, ‘What is my theme? What is the foundation for the story I'm trying to tell in my exhibition, in my selection?’ And for me, the theme was that these women exist. That these women are badasses, they're out here in the world, and that they are making this work and they're taking the risk to tell you the stories that need to be told. I kept that in the back of my mind, knowing the foundation of Women Photograph, what it stands for and why it exists and why it's important. So I think the challenge is letting people understand the foundation of why you created that particular exhibit. And in this case, the reason why Women Photograph does year-end pictures to show you what happened over the year. But more importantly, to show you the talent that exists in our field of photography.”

See the complete Women Photograph: 2022 Year In Pictures photo essay HERE.

See more of Endia Beal’s work on Instagram @endiabeal, her Alpha Universe Profile and at endiabeal.com.


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