I recently sat down with Mary Virginia Swanson, the new Director of LOOK3, Festival of the Photograph, to discuss this year’s festival taking place June 13-19th in the lovely town of Charlottesville, Virginia. When you finish reading the interview Click Here and buy your tickets. I promise you won’t be sorry. -Nancy

Paramount Marquee Look3 2012
Paramount Marquee Look3 2012


Nancy McCrary: We’re all thrilled that you have taken the helm at LOOK3. Running a show of this size has to be a daunting responsibility. What brought you to this place in your career, and why do you find LOOK3 important enough to warrant your considerable expertise and talents?


Mary Virginia Swanson: If I had to choose one thing I am interested in, it would be COMMUNITY. I grew up in a large family that drew family and friends together as well as engagement with our broader community and professional colleagues. I definitely follow in their footsteps! I was fortunate to work with mentors early in my career who gathered people together to share ideas, and from my college years on I too was naturally organizing workshops, seminars, conferences and more.

Another driving interest of mine is education, and specifically professional practices. As an undergrad I worked at our university art museum and coordinated the annual student competition, bringing in judges the likes of John Baldessari and Peter Plagens. In graduate school I was the student director of our photography gallery, returning each summer/winter break to work at my hometown museum where I shared all I learned with my classes about the language of collecting, museum standards and more.

Throughout my career I have been known for bringing practical information to my teaching whether preparing younger artists for a career in photography or providing continuing education to sage, experienced photographers on our evolving photography industry.

It was a natural for me to be interested in growing the educational program at LOOK3, and to work towards broader diversity in the issues and the artists featured in the Festival’s roster of speakers. From this platform I can impact a larger group of individuals who will in turn return to their homes and share the LOOK3 experience with their community.

NM: It seldom happens, but I’m always surprised when someone says to me, “What’s LOOK3?” So, let’s say I’m an emerging photographer who wants to know what move he should make next with his photography. Book, gallery, alternate publications, more education, online presence ….. why would I want to go to LOOK3? What would you say are the three top events, classes I shouldn’t miss? Five?

MVS: Come to Charlottesville in time to experience LOOK3 EDU, which I developed with an emphasis on creativity and entrepreneurship. Arrive by Tuesday, June 14. That evening we host the PDN 30 Emerging panel, and the following two days offer day-long engagements; the first day is about your work, and the second, your audience.

Tues evening June 14th: PDN 30 Emerging Photographers Panel:

We begin our programing on Tuesday evening, June 14th with the celebrated PDN 30 Emerging Photographers Panel. Moderated by PDN Editor Holly Hughes, the roster of artists will include those recently nominated and named to the “PDN 30” who will share their chosen pathway into our industry.

Seminar Day One, Wednesday June 15th: Creativity Meets Technology:

I created this one-day seminar to provide a survey of contemporary technology, social media, publishing, sharing and delivery platforms that are essential tools for artists to create, collaborate, produce and share their work.  It is Ideal for those who want an overview of creativity tools today, such as photographers who have been out of school for a while and photo instructors who want to broaden their awareness of creative possibilities.

Our moderator for the day is James Estrin, NY Times LENS Blog Co-Editor and Senior Staff Photographer, and presenters include Andrew Mendelson, Ph. D., Associate Dean and Professor, CUNY School of Journalism, Brian Storm, Founder and Executive Producer, Media Storm, Ed Kashi , co-producer, Talking Eyes Media, a VII Agency Photographer, the members of Black Box, a Cooperative, for Visual Documentary Projects, Peter diCampo & Austin Merrill, Everyday Africa Project, Dan Milnor, Blurb and closing the day is Jenna Pirog, Virtual Reality Producer and editor for the New York Times Magazine who takes us into the future!

Seminar Day Two, Thursday June 16th: Artists: Meet your Markets and LOOK3 PITCH

This half-day seminar an half-day of pre-scheduled meetings with professionals is created to provide photographers a window to the many markets that engage with them to commission, licensing images, publish projects, exhibit and/or acquire fine prints for private institutional or corporate collections, represent photographers for commissions or sales of fine prints and more.


THURSDAY morning is devoted to learning from representatives about the many and diverse business opportunities for photographers today. Gallerists, curators, publishers, licensing agencies, magazine photo editors, art buyers from advertising agencies, art consultants and more will inform photographers about their business model, how they deliver content and goods to their audience, how to make a strong first impression, what a relationship looks like on paper and what the specific deliverables would be – finishing with a role-playing exercise with a member of the audience in a live ‘pitch’ session.

Presenters include Anne Wilkes Tucker, Curator Emerita, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Molly Roberts, Chief Photography Editor, Smithsonian Magazine, Catherine Edelman, Edelman Gallery (Chicago) and President, AIPAD, Denise Wolff, Editor, Aperture Books; Ed O’Keefe, VP CNNMoney and Politics and Justin Staley, FUJIFILM on in-house advertising campaigns in our industry and more from the licensing, corporate art, advertising sector and more.

LOOK3 2015 Education with Zun Lee
LOOK3 2015 Education with Zun Lee



On Thursday afternoon LOOK3 will provide an opportunity for photographers registered for the morning seminar to submit their portfolio for consideration of selection for a business meeting with an industry professional who will have reviewed their application in advance and selected them for a meeting – not a critique or portfolio review, but a proper business meeting. I want LOOK3 to be the place where artists learn and gain confidence in their business acumen, and industry professionals gain exposure to new talent.

If you are registered for the morning you are eligible to apply for LOOK3 Pitch. Applications will be open APRIL 8-22 (info on our website).

Additional professionals from diverse markets will be joining the morning presenters to participate in LOOK3 PITCH, including representatives from TIME Magazine, AARP Magazine, Candela Books and Gallery, MediaStorm, National Geographic Magazine, ad agencies and more.

LOOK3 PITCH is totally innovative and timely, offering a chance for photographers to have actual business meetings – not critiques or reviews but a proper meeting with industry professionals, selected by the reviewers NOT the photographers – through which they will gain awareness of the language of multiple markets, as well as an understanding of the diversity of deliverables and contract terms.

This structure is unprecedented in the industry where it is typical that the photographers choose who they want to meet with. I want the key players in the industry to know that LOOK3 is THE place to see new work and meet with talented photographers.As a publisher/editor I have always gleaned great talent for my magazine from the networking/socializing aspect of LOOK3. The Mall being the ultimate hang-out spot, the talent you choose being incredible. Is there something specific I shouldn’t miss this year?

This year we have added the Jefferson School as a gathering spot beyond the educational offerings, so come back – the auditorium will be replaced with LOOk3 Dialogues where participants can share projects in progress with editors from MediaStorm and Talking Eyes Media, our sponsors will share their latest tools for photographers and offer Photo Walks each morning, three photobook exhibitions will be on view, participants can reserve a space at our pop-up book fair to sell their latest titles, and much more!

I am also looking forward to what our invited curators are preparing for the Evening Projections:

LOOK3 Evening Projections
LOOK3 Evening Projections


FRIDAY NIGHT: THE PHOTOGRAPHY EDITORS of TIME MAGAZINE are providing a window to photography in our lives today

and SATURDAY NIGHT: THE STAFF OF MEDIASTORM will offer a glimpse into our world through the power of storytelling.

NM: The selection of photographers for the 2016 artist’s talks is diverse. How did you come up with this line-up, and please tell us a bit about who they are?

MVS: I could not be more excited about the diversity of individuals and their work that we will feature at LOOK3 201

Long-time board members Michael Nichols and Melissa Harris who worked closely with me to plan our roster of four international Legacy artists (Nick Brandt, Graciela Iturbide, Yuri Kozyrev and Frans Lanting)


This year the board expanded to include many talented individuals who contributed to curating this year’s offerings including Andrew Owen, Deborah Willis and Phil Toledano and along with Vincent J. Musi and myself selected the six Project artists (Olivia Bee, Sheila Pree Bright, Mary F. Calvert, Binh Danh, Doug DuBois and Radcliffe “Ruddy” Roye).


Our partner Photo WIngs will again provide funding for recording our presentation with excerpts featured on our website and photowings.org.

NM: Where does LOOK3 go in the future? Will it still be a bi-annual event? Will there be an opportunity to enjoy the programs online as well as in person?

MVS: In years past, LOOK3 occurred for three years followed by an off year called “LOOKBetween” where the focus was on mentoring the next generation of artists. Currently, 2016 and 2017 are regularly scheduled Festival years, and while we will revisit the “between” concept I am hopeful that we expand education to offer additional mentoring at the front end of the festival each and every year. This year we are increasing the engagement of UVA professor John Edwin Mason’s summer class during which his students work in our high school mentoring program as well as engage directly with many of our presenters in advance of the Festival.   I am thrilled that the connection with UVA’s Summer Program is growing.

Next year is our 10th Festival! Stay tuned!!



Festival of the Photography

June 13-19, 2016

Charlottesville, Virginia

For more information go here