12 by Stuart Pilkington

Posted on March 3, 2015

Stuart Pilkington is widely known as a prolific curator of projects that bring together photographers of all kinds. We’ve been long-term fans of Stuart’s ambitious work which shares the same ethos of open collaboration that we strive for at 12 by 12.

What first drew you to photography?

When I was at university and later working in post-production in Soho, a group of us were desperate to make independent short films; however in reality, all that happened was that we would sit in pubs drinking pints of bitter and smoking Marlborough lights just talking about it. We never got off the ground. So when I started earning a nice salary at Hyundai Car I decided to buy a camera with my first pay cheque so that I could become a one man band. I thought photography was the next best thing to making films, however, later I discovered that it was actually a lot more rewarding.

What brought you to curating?

I used to go to a few photography classes when I worked at Hyundai and was used to being set assignments each week like ‘pattern’ or ‘form’, so when the realisation hit me that my cameras were just lying on the shelf gathering dust, I decided to use my basic web skills to create a group project called ‘The Alphabet Project‘. That’s why I started curating, to force myself into making images.

Alphabet Project © Cyrille Weiner ‘Broken’ – The Alphabet Project

Does your role as a curator impact on your own approach as a photographer?

I think if you were born in the 20th/21st century then you are bombarded by images from the moment you are born. Your brain then assimilates all these images and stores them in a filing system, so when you come to take your own photographs your brain knows in an instance how to frame, how to compose, how to emote. Malcolm Gladwell talks about it in his book ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’. Curating projects since 2008 means that my brain has been fed with a particularly rich vein of images which helps to shape my photographic dialect (a term that Alec Soth recently used).

What has been your favourite curation project to date and why?

My projects have only had the remotest success because photographers have been kind enough to support them. My web skills are basic and clunky so really I bring very little to the party, apart from some anal organisational skills. What makes the projects appealing is the image makers, so I have a soft spot for all the projects however, at a push, I always say ‘The 50 States Project’ because it was exciting. For this project, by luck I happened across 50 excellent photographers, it appealed to the viewer and garnered some attention because of that it was like my first hit of heroin. I’ve been chasing the dragon ever since in terms of excitement.

50 States
“Joan in Her Turquoise Dress, near Bellevue, Iowa, Winter 2009” © Sandy Dyas – The 50 States Project

Have you received any feedback from your participants which you’ve found surprising?

I’ve loved the fact that ‘The Swap’ has brought together for the first time members of the tribe we all belong to. For example, Jim Mortram and Justin Leighton have been brothers in arms for a long time and have supported each other immeasurably. So it was heartening to hear that ‘The Swap’ brought them together in person for the first time even though it was for a brief moment. My projects are all about connection and bonds tying us all together. I love stories like that.

The Swap
Richard Williamson by Allison Barnes & Allison Barnes by Richard Williamson – The Swap

You’ve become known throughout the community as someone who brings photographers together, what do you think artists gain from collaborating?

I want photographers who are doing wonderful work on Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr etc and currently not being paid for it; to feel as if they are on an equal footing to an editorial or art photographer who is at the top of their game. I am a communist at heart and although I know communism can never work because of human nature, I think this online community can uphold some of those principles. In my mind, all sheep are equal – full stop.

What was the inspiration behind your latest project “100 Mile Radius”?

A friend, who I used to work with years ago, asked me if I knew of any landscape competitions. I didn’t know so I asked Willson Cummer of ‘New Landscape Photography’, he said that there were some but not many. You get the likes of the ‘Countryfile’ competition but I find those images too chocolate box in style. I wanted to produce a landscape competition that has an art photography sensibility. It’s also another simple brief and ideally I would like to introduce photographers from Asia, Africa and South America building up a global picture.

100 mile radius
© Marc Wilson – ‘The Last Stand’ – 100 Mile Radius

100 Mile Radius: A Landscape Photography Competition

Has the rise of Instagram over the last few years changed the way in which people have interacted with your projects?

Not as much as I hoped. I did put a call out for people to enter some Instagram images for ‘The Swap’ but I wasn’t inundated with submissions. I see some really inspiring work on Instagram and its part of my daily social media routine to look through people’s images. I think it’s a brilliant platform and the fact that people like Stephen Shore and Mario Testino use it is testament to that. It would be interesting to create a project that’s purely Instagram related, however, having said that 12 by 12 is already heading in that direction and I very much look forward to seeing the results. 52 by 52 and 26 by 26 were fantastic.

With regards to photography, who inspires you?

Lindley Warren is a curator who I really admire. I think ‘The Ones We Love’ and ‘The Photographic Dictionary’ are magical and I admire her touch and eye. She’s an auteur. As for photography I often seem to be quoting on Facebook Alec Soth and Todd Hido, not only are their images stunning but so too is their prose.

If you could choose any pair of photographers to take part in the Swap (dead or alive) who would they be?

I almost had a couple of A-listers take part and I tried to marry up people like David Bailey and Don McCullin but I suspect this was overly suspicious. The pairing I really would like to see is Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld. I think it would be a swap made in heaven.

If you were stranded on a desert island and you had the choice of bringing only one photobook, which one would it be and why?

‘William Eggleston’s Guide’. The epitome of photobooks. It would be a constant reminder to see the desert island with Bill’s eye and when I found the island lacking any beauty it would enable me to see it anew.

Do you have any tips for people planning to embark on a collaborative photo project like 12 by 12?

I guess the main thing is to have fun. The assignments set in projects like 12 by 12 are designed to evoke playfulness, to inspire and maybe put people in a totally new direction. Sometimes a simple one off brief can lead an image maker into fresh fields and occasionally be the start of a brand new series. I encourage people to relax and enjoy being part of an all-inclusive gang. Your voice is unique, valid and important.



Stuart Pilkington’s website

Previous 52 by 52 challenges from Alec SothJim Mortram and Marc Wilson



Emma GeorgiouInterview by Emma Georgiou
– 12 by 12 team