28 January 2018

A Platform Shaping the Photography of the Future

28 January 2018 - Written by PhMuseum

Unseen's Artistic Director Emilia van Lynden introduces us to the international organisation based in The Netherlands, and talks about their efforts to discover and promote contemporary photography while exploring the future of the medium.

COOP, Unseen 2017 © Maarten Nauw

A few days ago I came across an Instagram post saying more or less something like: "Buy living artists' work, dead ones don't need the money". Now, it might not be the most elegant way of talking about it, yet it goes straight to the point: making a life as a (young) artist has never been that easy and there is a need for granting support and a market to those who will eventually represent the future of the medium, in our case, photography. They seem to be well aware of this issue at Unseen, the dynamic Dutch organisation that is offering many solid options aimed at promoting the current and future generations of photographers. For this reason, we invited Emilia van Lynden, Unseen Artistic Director, to be a juror in the PHM 2018 Grant and we went to know more about the brilliant work they are doing.

Hola Emilia! Let’s start with Unseen, which is well known for its fair, yet is more properly a platform for contemporary photography, also comprising a festival, a magazine, prizes and events throughout the year. Can you tell us briefly about them and how this realities coexist and empower each other?

Unseen was founded as a fair in 2012 with a mission to showcase works of young, emerging talents and the newest work of established artists. The founders believed that, at that time, art fairs were largely only presenting works by established artists and that there was no fair or platform for young practitioners: those who were focusing on the future of the medium and those that were taking photography to new unchartered territories. Additionally, art fairs were seemingly inaccessible for a larger audience and collecting still seemed to be a vocation which only the wealthy could enjoy or be part of.

We have come a long way since 2012 but our core values have never changed. We want to showcase emerging talents and the newest works by established artists and focus on opening up the art market to a larger audience. Unseen Amsterdam is a multifaceted event and includes many different programme elements such as the Book Market for 60 international independent publishers; CO-OP, launched in 2017 to highlight artists working in a collective; the Living Room, our three-day speakers programme; interactive onsite projects; exhibitions; our city programme and much more. We are also extremely proud to have created a variety of talent development programmes including the ING Unseen Talent Award that aims to promote specific European talents and share Unseen’s network, creating visibility for the artists and an opportunity to show their work to a larger audience. Awards and programmes such as the ING Unseen Talent Award truly can be a pivotal moment within the career of an artist.

The beating heart of Unseen Amsterdam is still definitely the fair, annually welcoming 53 international galleries and showcasing on average 160 artists each edition, many of whom are presenting premieres, works that have never been physically shown before. Our galleries share our ethos and are willing to take risks to showcase works that have not entered the market before. Unseen Amsterdam therefore is a market and meeting place where photography specialists, professionals and collectors come together to debate the future of the medium.

But this is only Unseen Amsterdam, we have the ambition to do many more things throughout the year to highlight the phenomenal artists that we work with. We are currently working on projects and collaborations that will be highlighted during the year in different locations around the world. The aim of these collaborations is to give our artists are wider and more visible platform to promote their work on. Additionally, we will be creating more content online, focusing on our artists, their practices, inspiration and motivations. All the different elements of Unseen can easily coexist and indeed empower each other as the ethos or will to execute them is the same; to highlight talented photographic practitioners that are pushing the boundary of the medium, to tell their stories and to allow them to explore novel manners in which to present their work.

The fair, Unseen 2017 © Iris Duvekot

What does it mean to be the Artistic Director of such a dynamic, young yet establish organization? How do you lead it to reach its main goal of discovering and promoting exclusively what’s new in photography? How do you adapt to nowadays constant changes?

As Artistic Director, I'm incredibly lucky to receive an amazing amount of visuals, I see work from all over the world that we receive from our stakeholders (galleries, artists, publishers, collectors, partners), that is sent to us by artists that we don’t know yet, or that we discover through research. It means I spend a lot of time viewing work and reading about it. Through doing extensive research throughout the year, I hope to be able to follow new projects, themes and approaches within photography. This enables the Unseen team to choose which certain themes or projects we would like to present in Amsterdam every September or highlight online. Travel is also essential in my role to be able to view the works physically and not only digitally. Research both on and offline are therefore at the core of my role and through this I follow global developments and hope to remain up to date. Everyone within the Unseen Team continuously does online research and shares their new discoveries on a weekly basis with the team. It is the team, our artists, our stakeholders and our advisory committee that ensures that Unseen is young and dynamic!

Now more than ever we see the work of talented photographers coming from those who were once considered “peripheral” regions, such as Latin America and Africa. How do you discover new works in those areas geographically far away from Europe? How relevant are online tools in this sense?

Online tools are essential. I might travel a lot but I am not able to travel large distances often and therefore can’t always get to these regions. It means that most of my research is done online, using photography blogs, reading leading photography publications, keeping up to date on Instagram and other social media platforms. This is absolutely key in order for us to see as much as possible. Of course we still miss things due to the lack of travel but this is unavoidable. I sometimes also call upon colleagues who work in a gallery or at festivals in all of the other continents for advice. Advice from industry leaders who are specialised in their own region is a fantastic way of staying close to the source and to discover local talented artist through them.

ING Award Ceremony, Unseen 2017 © Maarten Nauw

Which characteristic should a work/photographer have to be invited into the Unseen universe? What can you offer them, and especially the work of young/emerging photographers?

In regards to the fair, you have to be represented by a gallery or organisation that promotes innovative and/or experimental artists. Over time, we however realised that this means that a huge amount of artists are unable to present their work at Unseen Amsterdam due to the fact that they are not connected to a gallery. This was one of our leading reasons to set up CO-OP. CO-OP enables artists who are in an artist run initiative or part of a collective to showcase their work at Unseen Amsterdam. These artists are often not represented by a gallery but work in small units to sustain their practice. For Unseen, this is a fantastic manner in which to work with an array of artists from all over the world and to open up the market to more talented artists.

Additionally, we work with artists through our onsite projects, our exhibition programme, our city programme and of course our magazine, Unseen Magazine. Often these artists are not showing within the fair but are still able to be promoted through the platform. Our book market is of course also a fantastic place to make discoveries. Coming with your publisher to show at Unseen Amsterdam can also be a great way to get your work out there.

What will you value at the moment of reviewing the PHM 2018 Grant submissions? Do you consider it and grants in general as a good opportunity to discover projects for Unseen?

It a very valuable manner through which to make new discoveries. As previously mentioned its vital for me to come into contact with work of artists that I do not know yet. Being part of juries is a great way for me to view a plethora of artists and discuss them with the other jury members. It is a great opportunity and a percentage of the artists that I have discovered during a portfolio review or through an award have ended up showing their work in some form at Unseen Amsterdam which is fantastic.

Square, Unseen 2017 @ Iris Duvekot


Emilia van Lynden is Unseen Artistic Director and a judge of the PHM 2018 Grant. Follow her on Instagram.

Giuseppe Oliverio is the Founder and Director of PHmuseum. Follow him on Instagram.

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