T: 0151 703 0020

T: 0151 703 0020

The Ethics of Portrait Photography – A Transatlantic View

Monday 18th May

From Harlem slums to ‘all American high-school’ stereotypes, New York photographer and writer, Camilo José Vergara, and Californian photographer, Jona Frank, take us on a visual journey to explore the subverted American Dream. Louis Quail and Bryn Davies talk about the influence of UK ethics on their international work. Panel discussions/Q&A.

The event will comprise of 2 in-conversation sessions, followed by a short panel session and Q&A in which we hope to discuss personal ethics, cultural codes of conduct and reflections on how these have been formed.

More about the Artists behind the lense:

Camilo Jose Vergara is a Chilean-born photographer and writer who lives and works in New York City. Since 1970  he has been documenting changes in the urban landscape, focusing on American slums and decaying urban environments, along the way becoming an “archivist of decline,” a documentarian of walls, buildings, and entire city blocks. His work is noted for picturing the same buildings and neighborhoods multiple times over many years, and in so doing recording the changing nature of the city itself. His books include American Ruins (Monacelli, 1999), The Twin Towers Remembered (Princeton Architectural Press, 2001), and How the Other Half Worships (Rutgers, 2005), Harlem The Unmaking of a Ghetto (Chicago, 2013).

In 2002 Vergara was awarded a “genius” award by the MacArthur Foundation and in 2013 he became the first photographer to receive The National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. His work has been included in solo and group exhibitions at, among others, the National Building Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. In fall of 2014, the United States Library of Congress just purchased a large body of Mr. Vergara’s work for its permanent collection.

He continues to update his documentation of the American ghetto, is completing Detroit Is No Dry Bones covering 25 years documenting the city.  His newest project Ghetto Noir consists on photographing at night the same places and neighborhoods he photographs during the day.

His work can be seen here and here.


Jona Frank was born in New Jersey and moved to California to attend film school at USC. Her photography is mostly portraiture and her first book, High School, looks at social groups in suburban high schools throughout the US. Her second book, Right, is about a college of home-schooled kids who are being groomed to be the future of the Republican Party and her third book is about boyhood in California. Her next project will look at uniforms. Jona says her film work grew out of her photography, confessing, at first it was more straightforward, narrative documentary. Her first short, Catholic School, premiered at the Sundance FIlm Festival and was bought by Bravo, showed internationally, and lead to documentary work for PBS. Artistically, Jona is interested in blurring the lines between still and motion and began to create gallery and museum installation pieces, using motion picture film with skaters and ROTC recruits. She says she likes to think of them as visual puzzles. Jona is interested in how people learn to negotiate the world and find their place and group. She wants to explore different ways of pushing the limits between still and motion commercially. You can view her work here

Louis Quail is a documentary photographer with many years experience working for a raft of top magazines (From Sunday Times and Telegraph magazines, to Marie Claire Magazine) Increasingly he is looking to exhibit his work and follow long-term and personal projects. His latest offering, Desk Job, exploring globalization, through the eyes of the office worker, has been selected for Format Photography Festival, the Renaissance Photography prize and has been exhibited at Scotland’s, Street Level Photoworks. It is an indication of the direction that Louis is keen to follow. His work has taken him to conflicts and disaster zones like Haiti, Libya and Afghanistan where he has explored the theme of aftermath using interviews in addition to pictures. He is experienced in commercial work with advertising and corporate clients, celebrity portraiture and is available for assignments from both editorial and commercial sectors, he lectures part time and is represented by Picturetank in France. You can view his work here.

Bryn Davies is a Liverpool-based photographer and designer. Bryn has undertaken commissions as part of the Arts Council, Liverpool City Council Art Projects, IKEA and has exhibited at the Liverpool Independents and Biennial 2012. In 2013, Bryn received an award for best fine art portfolio by the British Institute of Professional Photography. Bryn has worked commercially in design for 12 years as a retail designer (interior design and visual merchandising) for IKEA. Find out more here.

In partnership with LOOK/15
6.30pm - 8pm. The Victoria Gallery and Museum at The University of Liverpool. Brownlow Hill/Ashton Street, L69 3DR. Free

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Writing on the Wall believe in creativity, community, diversity, artistic excellence and social and economic justice. We are Liverpool’s longest-running writing and literary organisation and festival. We celebrate and inspire creativity and writing in all its forms through inquiry, debate, performance and publishing. Our annual WOWFEST brings together local audiences with the best local, national and international writers, artists and social commentators.