Unseen Amsterdam's artistic director on how its richest line-up yet inspires and informs

21 September 2018

Without a doubt, Unseen Amsterdam is a highlight for any photography fanatic’s annual calendar. Whether you’re an iPhone snapper, a master of the disposable at festivals, or a fully-fledged “photophile” who never leaves home without your Hasselblad in tow, Unseen Amsterdam is sure to fit the bill. Exclusively focusing on what’s new in the photographic world, the three-day event provides a channel for up-and-coming talent to showcase their work.

Although existing as a year-round platform, Unseen Amsterdam, which takes place every September is always “the main event”. Returning for its seventh edition at Westergasfabriek, this year’s programme – which begins today and ends on 23 September – aims to be the richest and most varied yet, “bringing together the movers, shakers and makers of the international photography community to discuss and debate the future of photography”.

We caught up with Unseen’s artistic director, Emilia van Lynden to find out more about how they approach curating a 300-strong line-up of artists, as well as highlighting some must-see events.


Blue Tree, from the series Aomori, 2017 © Alexander Mourant, Seen Fifteen


Red Nails, from the series Experimental Relationship, 2014 © Pixy Liao, Fotogalleri Vasli Souza


Red Nails, from the series Experimental Relationship, 2014 © Pixy Liao, Fotogalleri Vasli Souza

It’s Nice That: Tell us a bit about how you approached curating this year’s Unseen? Is this an approach which changes year-on-year?

Emilia van Lynden: In regard to the Fair, the process is similar each year. Throughout the year we look for new galleries and discover new artists through our research (both on and offline). We then select these galleries including those we have worked with in the past and invite them to submit a proposal. The proposal can highlight a maximum of four artists, of which 50% must be emerging talent. We specifically ask for premiering works, of course, works that have never been physically presented at an art fair, museum or gallery. With our advisory committee, comprised of international contemporary art specialists, we then review all of the proposals and select 53 galleries that we believe adhere the most to our concept; high-quality projects that push the boundaries of contemporary photography.

For Co-Op, our programme element focusing on artist collectives, we also invite international artist-run initiatives that we and the Co-Op curator, Lars Willumeit have been following to submit a proposal. Within their proposals, we ask them to highlight what their project concept is, what type of commercial elements are included in their presentation and how they are planning to present their work in an unconventional manner. Together with Lars, we select 12 projects to be shown within Co-Op.

For the exhibitions, the on-site projects and the additional initiatives, we try to present a broad and varied array of artists that highlight the diversity within contemporary photography and allow for audiences to engage with the artists in new, interactive and inspiring ways.


Aino and Saima, from the series Shared, 2016 © Nelli Palomäki Galerie Les filles du calvaire

INT: Why do you believe this year’s programme is the richest and most varied yet? What makes it so?

EVL: This year, more than ever before, we are collaborating with a fantastic array of photography institutions, art platforms and innovative brands in order to showcase how artists reflect on our society.

The living room is co-curated by the publishing house Aperture from New York and the new European photography platform Futures. Through our speakers programme in collaboration with these two parties, we highlight prominent and relevant photographic themes and hope to encourage the audience to enter into a discussion on the current state of the photographic medium.

With Fujifilm, we present the Fujifilm Faculty where an Italian artist collective, The Cool Couple, was invited to investigate Fujifilm and make a project based on its findings. Reflecting on the ethos and mission of Fujifilm, The Cool Couple examines the role of photographic paper and its future. Thomas Kuijpers, the winner of the Grolsch Unseen Residency, spent two months exploring Swedish society and gathered opinions on the contemporary problems we’re facing in Europe as well as different visions for a better world. He will present this brand-new work as a premiere within the Fair.

These are just three examples, a vast number of projects are being presented this year that explore pressing social, political and ecological issues. This year’s programme builds upon the foundation of Unseen which believes that artists are the best practitioners to reveal the world around us, in order to inspire, enthuse and inform our audiences.

INT: Tell us a bit more about the talent development arm of Unseen? How does this function and why, do you believe, this is an important part of the platform?

EVL: A major element of Unseen is talent development and giving photographers, in all stages of their careers, a platform to showcase their work, and engage in the discussions and debates that we initiate. We are there for emerging artists and are committed to giving them the opportunity to amplify their careers. This is imperative to Unseen’s mission and we have developed various elements as a result.

One of which is the ING Unseen Talent Award, an initiative that gives new European photography talent a stage to present their work on a global scale. The ING Unseen Talent Programme encourages emerging artists to explore the boundaries of contemporary photography and helps them kick-start their career. It introduces the finalists to extensive networks, providing support from experts and opportunities to exchange ideas with photography professionals. The industry needs to help emerging artist and develop their careers. The talent development programmes that we create showcase how different organisations and brands also share our beliefs in telling universal stories through the eyes of artists.


Bol – Buduma, from the series Chronicles of the Lake Chad Basin, 2017 © Benedicte Kurzen, TJ Boulting

INT: Are you able to pull out a few highlights that anyone should visit during this year’s Unseen?

EVL: This is a tricky question to answer as I am proud of everything that we have achieved and are able to offer to the photographic community and our public. Co-Op is particularly captivating this year as we are welcoming collectives from all over the globe including the Ivory Coast, Japan and Austria. They will highlight important issues and express their collective visions on topics regarding migrant stereotyping, authorship and mass tourism.

When Records Melt is an exhibition that you absolutely cannot miss this year. The show will explore how artists, in their roles as social researchers, are able to strikingly capture and reveal universal truths about glacier recession. We are thrilled to work in collaboration with Project Pressure and to present artistic explorations of notable photographers including Klaus Thyman, Simon Norfolk, Broomberg and Chanarin and Edward Burtynsky who aim to incite positive behavioural change.

Of course, the artists – over 300 for this edition of Unseen Amsterdam, including over 90 phenomenal artist premieres within the Fair – really make the event what it is. There is a rich variety of international practitioners – emerging as well as established – who are all, in their own way, pushing the boundaries of contemporary photography.


Green Phone #smudge from the series N-TOKYO, 2018 © Kenta Cobayashi


Le costume de bain, from the series Speculaire, 2018 © Edouard Taufenbach, Galerie Binome


Lili, from the series Swallow, 2018 © Andras Ladocsi, Supermarket Gallery


Machette Driver 2, from the series Boda Boda Madness, 2017 © Jan Hoek and Bobbin Case, Galerie Ron Mandos


Mommy and Me, from the series Happy Valley, 2016 © Eva O’Leary, Meyohas


Ruth, Amina and the three Aisha’s play In and Out, Tatsuniya, from the series Education is Forbidden, 2017 © Rahima Gambo, Red Hook Labs


Summer is Coming, 2018 © AdeY, Fotogalleri Vasli Souza


Untitled I, from the series Sisyphus, 2017 © Kata Geibl, Supermarket Gallery


Untitled, from the series Matter_Burn Out, 2016 © Daisuke Yokota, G_P Gallery

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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