Karen McQuaid - Guest Lecture

Karen McQuaid is the senior curator at the photographers gallery in London. The photographers gallery was founded in 1971 the first public gallery in the UK devoted to photography. A 3rd of its funding came from the TAX office and takes no profit from what it does. Karen McQuaid was brought up in Dublin in a sports family and went to a school taught by nuns. She never expected her career to head down the path it did based of her up bringing. McQuaid went to London to do a degree in fashion communication as she wanted to work as an editor. Tower records shop back home inspired her at the age of 16 not because of the records but because of the magazines.

McQuaid’s first intern ship at “Surface” magazine, while working here along side her studies. through the internship she was unwillingly working with photography before she even decides to focus her career on it. Surface magazine had her organizing exhibitions and working along side photographers for shoot in the magazine. McQuaid later moved to an internship with “Tank” magazine were she eventually got to do her own freelance work within the magazine. While working here she realised she did not want to keep working here and that she was most happy when working along side photographers so she changed to pursue photography. This is how she ended up working at the photographers gallery. After hearing about McQuaid and abit of her back ground her talk was mainly about failure and how she over came the failures that came up during her career. 

“Your career will not be one steady incline of ever increasing successes”

Working at the photographers gallery McQuaid has to arrange exhibitions on a regular basis. One of her first that she organised was with a photographer who for the exhibition was commissioning a prop from an artist friend. She did not know the artist but dismissed it and turned out the prop was huge and could have caused safety problems. From this experience McQuaid learnt to always be confident to say you do not know something so that you can learn and not make more mistakes. 

The first exhibition that McQuaid had full responsibility for was offered to her to do, but she mentioned how when it was offered to her there were to waves of thought that went thought her head. That she is not good enough or experienced enough to do the job but also not wanting anyone else to have the exhibition. This helped to build her confidents as she was given it because her peers trusted her to do a good job. 

The next exhibition that she talked about was one by Fiona Tan called “Vox Populi” London. From this exhibition it taught her how to handle more one on one interaction with people. Within the exhibition McQuaid had to find families willing to give there photo albums to the artist to use in her work. As McQuaid talked and interacted with the families she always arranged to collect the albums herself. This was because how personal the interaction was with the people and how personal the albums are to them. It also had to be her in case they decided not to give the albums over at the last minute, which she had to be fine with. 

Not only has McQuaid done exhibitions in this country but others too with photographers. The work based in the exhibition was about blood lust and family fudes. As the exhibitions have budgets sometimes they have to find the cheapest ways of transporting the work to the place of the exhibition. With this one they had wall length posters to transport and McQuaid did not realise that due to there content had to be kept in customs for 4 -5 days and nearly were not cleared in time for the exhibition.Throughout the talk we heard about all the different heralds that came up in her career and how she encouraged us to make mistakes and come out stronger from them.  

“When opportunities come your way find ways to share the susses. Be loyal use others and each other”




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