Fotografiska: A New Photography Experience

A journey through Fotografiska, New York City’s new photography museum.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It was an ordinary ride on the D train at the beginning of the school year—people sleeping, listening to music, and talking amongst each other. Looking around the walls plastered with ads from Seamless and Casper, I found one ad in particular to catch my eye. “Fotografiska,” it read, “Anything but your ordinary museum.” I moved my thumb up and down my phone screen, frustrated, hoping I would not lose service before the website loaded. I was brought to a white, in-progress home page, and under a photo it said that the museum would open in December. I then turned off my phone, counted the months until December, and forgot about Fotografiska until a week ago, when my mom mentioned to me that a new photography museum was opening soon.

The original Fotografiska museum is located in Stockholm, but there is one in Tallinn, Estonia; one under construction in London; and now, one in New York City. Museums around the world are being created in order to spread photography and inspiration, and according to Jan Broman, the co-founder of Fotografiska, New York City’s diversity and vibrancy in culture made it an ideal location for the opening of their next museum. Fotografiska’s goal is to create a space where people can not only look at art, but also connect to it and to each other. The museum’s building in the Flatiron District has six floors: the lobby with a gift shop, bookstore, and a cafe; a restaurant on the second floor; three floors of galleries; and an event space on the top floor.

When I walked into the museum, I was astounded by the large modern lobby, with its tall bookcases, plants, and the smell of coffee. I always start from the highest floor of museums, so I walked into the elevator, greeted by a smiling curator, and pressed the button for the sixth floor. This was the event space, a brick-walled room with several couches, armchairs, and the carpets with oriental patterns.

Though not a gallery floor, there were photographs from Danny Clinch’s “Amplifier” exhibit, a collection connecting photography to music. In the exhibit’s description, Clinch explained his family history and memories with photography, and how musicians and the want to document moments in music history inspired him to start taking photos. Photos of musical icons like Beyoncé, David Bowie, Radiohead, and many more decorated the area.

On the fifth floor was “Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women” by Ellen von Unwerth. As explained from the title, the exhibit centers around capturing different women’s personalities and emotions and portraying their unique images. At the entrance, a collage of magazine covers fills up the wall, and Lana Del Rey’s “Lust for Life” plays throughout the space. The photographs of this exhibit are divided into seven themes—lust, love, gender, drama, passion, power, and play—with each theme found in a room of a different color. The exhibit contains both color and black-and-white work of the photographer, each photograph telling a different story and expressing a special, distinctive character.

The fourth floor had two different exhibits: “Inheritance” by Tawny Chatmon and “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Helene Schmitz. The first is a series of portraits of African American children intricately positioned in front of the camera. The photographs are decorated with acrylic paint and 24k gold leaf, adding to the theme of gracefulness and beauty that Chatmon aims to illustrate. Chatmon emphasizes African American childhood and culture, as well as the importance and the journey of protecting a black child in the modern world.

The latter exhibit, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” is a series of landscape photographs that explore the negative relationship between humans and the environment. Schmitz’s seemingly serene photos reveal the destruction of nature, such as her image of an Icelandic hot spring with pipelines in the background and some depicting one of the world’s largest open pit mines. This exhibit was really eye-opening, as Schmitz managed to include some of the less attractive and more realistic aspects of landscapes, something that isn’t really seen a lot in landscape photography.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind’s “Other People’s Children,” a collaboration with TIME Magazine, is an exhibit studying the lives of women, like babysitters and teachers, who take care of children while their parents are working. Her photos portray the sacrifices people make for other people’s children, as well as the balance between taking care of them and their own children. This exhibit is extremely personal, moving, and heartbreaking. The photos that struck me in particular were related to a babysitter named Deki who left her two children for opportunities in America. The photos’ descriptions explain how she cares for three children for 11 hours each day, as well as other children over the weekends, to earn money to send to her family. Something that really stood out to me was how when the children Deki takes care of asked one of her own children over a video call if he missed Deki. He said he does not miss Deki, and that he has to focus on his education. The overall themes of this showcase—raising children in New York City, the flaws of child care, and inequalities regarding race and economic status—are extremely visible and prominent in Taylor-Lind’s photographs.

As an avid museum-goer interested in photography, I was not disappointed by Fotografiska. Though the $18 admission fee for students is more expensive than most other art museums, I was introduced to a variety of photographers, each with their own unique style and subjects of interest. Each of the exhibits told a story, expressed ideas that should be more known, and really made me think. Fotografiska certainly accomplished its goal of being a spot where people can appreciate art and relate to it.