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Introducing Der Greif’s Artistic Co-Director Caroline von Courten


Der Greif is excited to introduce Dr. Caroline von Courten as the Artistic Co-Director of the organization. Together with Simon Lovermann, she is taking the lead in directing Der Greif towards new and exciting achievements.

In addition to her role at Der Greif, Caroline teaches photography theory and visual culture studies at the Lucerne School of Design, Film, and Art in Switzerland. She holds a PhD from Leiden University, where she conducted a study on photographic materiality in the digital age. Previously, she served as the Managing Editor at Foam Magazine from 2010 to 2012 and in 2018, and as the Assistant Curator of Photography at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam from 2008 to 2009. She was also a Curator at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam from 2009 to 2010 before dedicating herself to research and teaching in 2012.

Der Greif: Can you tell us about your background in photography?

During my undergraduate studies, I became excited about the then-rather young field of study called Visual Culture. I have always been interested in contemporary phenomena and understanding them from an interdisciplinary perspective. Photography has played a prominent role in my studies, so when I was looking for a way to continue down this path, I discovered the master's program in Photographic Studies at Leiden University. This program covered all aspects of the photographic universe, including the theoretical, curatorial, historical, collaborative, and critical aspects, except for practical training.

Shortly after graduating, I had the opportunity to work as an assistant curator for photography at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. This was my first experience with collection and museum practice, and I continued this work at the Nederlands Fotomuseum. While there, I co-curated and organized an exhibition in Shanghai during the WorldExpo, as well as a retrospective of Robert Capa produced by the ICP. These opportunities were valuable in helping me shape my interests in the field.

When I took on the role of Managing Editor of Foam Magazine, all of my interests truly came together. I was able to conceptualize themes and angles, select portfolios, curate "exhibitions on paper" in collaboration with artists, art directors, and graphic designers. At that time, each photographic series was featured on 16 portfolio pages, without any interfering texts, and each page was printed on different paper. I also had the privilege of selecting high-end authors and serving as their sparring partner, as well as writing editorial pieces myself. This multifaceted process of magazine-making was incredibly rewarding, and I truly enjoyed it. However, the opportunity to pursue a PhD in photo theory while teaching undergraduate students at the university eventually led me away from my position at Foam.

Der Greif: What brought you to Der Greif? How did you become the Artistic Co-Director?

First of all, I have been a fan of Der Greif for many years. Leon Kirchlechner, Art Artistic Director for Der Greif print issues approached me in 2010 while I was working for Foam Magazine and suggested a magazine exchange. The vision and commitment of the four founders caught my attention back then, and it still does. In 2019, after spending over 15 years abroad, I moved back to my family's farm in the Bavarian countryside. At that time, I was in the final stages of my PhD. Knowing that Simon is an ideas-catalyst and well-connected, I reached out to him to explore new professional opportunities. During our lunch meeting in April of last year, which lasted for three hours, Simon shared his future vision for Der Greif and his own artistic career. Towards the end of our conversation, he proposed the idea of me co-directing Der Greif with him. I was overwhelmed and excited, as I have always admired our dynamic exchange of thoughts and have a deep love for Der Greif. It felt like the right moment for both of us.

Der Greif: What does it mean to you to co-direct Der Greif? What is your perspective on working together towards an organizational mission?

First of all, it is truly a dream come true! I am fully aware of how fortunate I am. When I review the Open Call submissions, I am constantly exposed to new worlds in contemporary photography. Der Greif truly embraces diversity, both in terms of the types of photography I encounter and the origins of the artists involved (regardless of their professional background, education, age, gender, nationality, etc.).

The vision and ethical values that have shaped this organization from the beginning, with the aim of supporting un(der)represented artists by creating formats that cater to their needs, are extremely inspiring. It is easy for me to dedicate myself fully to supporting this mission and to further develop it. I strongly believe in the power of conversation and collaboration as the foundation for artistic creation. Therefore, co-directing Der Greif with Simon automatically incorporates this belief, as does Der Greif's emphasis on collaboration. Moreover, I am equally committed to actively involving the public in the creation of meaning through various exhibition formats, which is also an integral part of Der Greif's DNA. I believe our spirits are quite aligned, although my journey to this role took an academic and institutional path, while Der Greif (and Simon) emerged from artistic demands and curiosities.

Der Greif: Who has inspired you in your career?

Oh, the more I think about this question, the longer the list gets in my head! So many professional encounters, long or short ones, have shaped my photographic thinking and love for the field.

To name just a few, there are the academics whose writings and teachings have made my mind crack and change straight from the beginning, such as Helen Westgeest during my masters and as my co-promotor later, and Melissa Miles during my undergraduate course on photography at Monash University in Melbourne. Only by reading their works (without ever having met them), the deceased Belgian philosopher Henri van Lier, Peter Geimer, and Tina Campt (who just curated a Guest Room!) had a long-lasting impact. Their take felt both revelatory and deeply recognizable when I read them for the first time.

A recurring inspiration is the encounter with photographic artworks that leave a lasting impression, most prominently happening to me with works by Tacita Dean, Batia Suter, and Wolfgang Tillmans. And then there are the conversations that have continued throughout the years, starting with my professional beginnings assisting Hripsimé Visser at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: her demand to keep asking questions and critically wonder. Later, I had conversations with Pjotr de Jong (founder of Vandejong), one of the co-publishers and members of Foam Magazine's editorial team, whose originality and curiosity still resonate within me as I seek the unexpected in photography. The speculative and provocative personal conversations with Fred Ritchin (and also his writings) have been very dear to me. Last but certainly not least, I am inspired by those who have pursued their own careers in photography and whose professional paths I crossed initially but have continued on both a professional and personal level. These include Femke Lutgerink, who founded FOTODOK in Utrecht, Stefanie Grätz, photographer and now head of photography & graphic design at HKU Utrecht, and Ann-Christin Bertrand, former curator at C/O Berlin and now head of Camera Arts at HSLU Design, Film & Art in Lucerne.

Der Greif: Der Greif is widely known for its commitment to supporting and promoting artists, both online and offline. Thought-provoking events and exhibitions are at the heart of the program. Can you tell us a bit about how Der Greif's future program is developing?

A quick answer would be to further expand all the aspects and the potential that is already there. Local implementations have my particular attention: to bring the Der Greif world to Munich, our home base. In the form of new exhibition formats, a residency and possibly a project space in the long run. As well as deepening our commitment to our artists through new collaborative formats and more in-depth editorial pieces (both online and in print).

Der Greif: What is it that moves you and motivates your long-term work in the field of art photography?

At the end of the day, I believe it is the magic that surrounds photography. I am reminded of the exhibition and publication "Photography is Magic" by Charlotte Cotton (also one of those inspiring conversation partners!). I truly agree with the title! Photography is so versatile and non-restrictive in its forms (visually and materially!) that it calls for artistic experimentation. It literally opens up worlds!

Moreover, there is the everyday aspect of photography, its integrated role in our daily lives, longings, and social exchanges, that aligns with my initial quest and fascination to explore and contemplate the present moment. This, in turn, naturally directs my focus towards photographic images.