Mark Lubell’s first exhibition was one of hope amidst despair. “The beginning of my career was September 11th,” said Lubell, co-organizer of the ground-breaking here is new york: a democracy of photographs. A storefront window on Prince Street became “the unofficial official memorial site,” he recalled. “We asked the community for images before, during and after 9/11.” Professionals and amateurs both responded. Lubell scanned thousands of photos, then printed and hung them clothesline style. “We had 2,000 people a day lined up, a website with two billion hits in four months and multiple copies of the exhibition went to 33 places around the world. It’s still the second most seen exhibition in the history of photography…It inspired me to see that you can help people understand through images or at least set up a place for dialogue.”
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Sales of $25 prints raised more than $1 million for charity and convinced the entire photographic community that the new paradigm he’d developed was real. Photography had become universal, immediate and meaningful in surprising ways. In 2013, Lubell became executive director of the International Center of Photography, after a stint as director of Magnum Photos. His finger is firmly on the shutter button of what’s happening. And it’s a lot.
Lubell’s initiated off-site exhibitions at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City and the Southampton Cultural Center while moving the ICP into a new $23.5 million building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The ICP Museum on Bowery took two years to complete and opened this summer with Public, Private, Secret, an exhibition consisting of 150 works by 50 artists addressing ideas of reality, artifice, watching, being watched and the way both publicity and privacy are being altered through pictures.
Photography, Lubell claimed, affects our lives more than any other artform. “Within the last 30 seconds, more pictures were taken than in the whole 19th century. On Snapchat, 10 billion videos are shown every day. To me this demonstrates a shift from a text-based society to a very visual society. It’s influencing us for the good and for the not so good…It’s a very gray, very confusing moment in time. And this is where I think ICP has a real place.”
Lubell sees the ICP’s role as opening a discourse. “This is an institution that’s not afraid to push the envelope and put big ideas out there,” he said. The inaugural show spans from 19th century albumen prints to an avatar with existential angst. Lubell cited Cindy Sherman’s conceptual self-portraits, Kim Kardashian’s selfies, Andy Warhol’s riffs on fame and a curated live-feed of trending images filling a huge screen. “To have all of those within six or seven feet of each other creates a conversation. It makes you think.”