Laura Noble is a photography polymath – a collector, writer, lecturer, curator and co-director of London’s Diemar/Noble gallery. She talks to IdeasMag about choosing work to show in the gallery and why photography is a bit like food…
How did you get into photography?
My father’s a very good photographer, and a regular buyer of National Geographic, so there was always photography around the house when I was growing up. I studied painting at university and when I finished my degree I got a job at Borders: working in a bookstore made sense as having access to books is important to any creative profession. I was in charge of all the arts subjects, including photography. I worked there for a while before getting a job at the Photographer’s Gallery bookshop. I’d have people from agencies coming in, artists, photographers and suddenly the whole genre opened out. I started to write photography book reviews for magazines and buying photography and it all grew from there.
You co-founded Diemar/Noble (with photographic consultant Michael Diemar) in 2009. How did the idea for that come about?
I was at Paris Photo in 2007. Through my freelance work – I’d become an avid collector and had written a book on collecting, I was doing lectures, giving talks in Barcelona, doing portfolio reviews at the Arles Photography Festival – I had a lot of connections. People were saying, “Why don’t you open a gallery?” I thought: well as an idea that sounds wonderful but how the hell would I do it? The seed was planted.
What aspect of running a gallery do you enjoy most?
Seeing someone’s eyes open to something they didn’t know about – whether that’s discovering a new photographer or learning about a specific thing that’s been done within a photography genre that they didn’t know existed. Being able to give people something new and keep them engaged in the medium.
How do you select photographers to show in the gallery?
It varies. Sometimes I’m looking for something specific and come across something else. For example I met Christian Tagliavini, who we’re showing at the moment, at Arles when I was doing portfolio reviews there. That was exciting because I saw his work and thought wow that’s amazing. Maeve Berry had entered a photographic competition at Westminster University and I was one of the judges. Her work just blew me away.
When an image strikes you like that – is it an intuitive thing or something you can quantify?
It’s a bit like food; you know when something’s good, and you certainly know when something’s bad because it tastes wrong. Photography is similar. Knowing when it’s good comes with knowing a lot of work because you need those comparisons – you need to have a broad knowledge of what has come before. The old adage that everything’s been done is true to a certain degree but it hasn’t all been done in every way. So with someone like Christian Tagliavini, yes there have been Renaissance portraits in painting, and to a certain extent in photography, but the way he’s combined those elements hasn’t been done in quite that way before or to that standard.
What advice do you have for would-be photography gallerists?
Be clear about what you want to do and whereabouts you’re going to fit in the market. It’s not something you’re going to make lots of money from straight away so there has to be a passion there – without that passion for the work you’ll last five minutes. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Get advice from people. You don’t have to take it all but you have to find the best way. We’re back to cooking again: there are different recipes for the same dish a hundred times over but you prefer some to others. There are different ways of doing the same thing – find a way that’s right for you.
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Image © Natalja Sadikova.