The Director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation On Promoting Contemporary Photography
Anne-Marie Beckmann discusses her approach to artistic programming and collecting for the corporate sector
In this piece, former Global Cultural Director of Magnum Photos — now photography and art consultant — Sophie Wright speaks to the Director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, Anne-Marie Beckmann. Images in this article are by Magnum photographers whose work has been collected by the Foundation.
Situated in Frankfurt, the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation has more than 2,000 works by 135 artists from over 28 countries in its collection (the Art Collection Deutsche Börse). It runs a program of far reaching influence focused on the collection, exhibition and promotion of contemporary photography, including a number of important awards. At its heart, sits its long serving Director, Anne-Marie Beckmann, who has made a significant contribution to its international reputation by leading its wide-ranging engagement with photography.
Beckmann’s commitment to her work and fascination with the medium, supported by the executive and since 2015, the new Foundation board, has fueled the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation’s success. Together with a small team, she manages the various initiatives focusing on promoting contemporary photography, continuously expanding the Art Collection Deutsche Börse and curating exhibitions. In addition, the Foundation runs a number of partnerships including the widely known Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize with The Photographers’ Gallery in London and the Foam Talents program with the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. The Foundation also presents and co-curates exhibitions with organizations such as Magnum Photos or the Goethe Institute in Paris. Beckmann manages all this alongside of her own voluntary teaching for local students, occasional independent curatorial projects and family life, which makes for a workload that she calls, with typical understatement, “quite challenging”.
Her fascination with photography, has its origins in her childhood. Anne-Marie, known as Ami to her friends, was brought up near Cologne, in a family with strong connections to the airline industry, and a love of art. “In my family background there was a lot of culture and visiting museums. My stepfather was the one who really introduced me to the arts. He had a photography book at home which was called ‘The Best of Time Life’ from 1973 and I remember my brother and me lying on my parents’ bed and going through it again and again”.
Beckmann studied art history in Frankfurt in the early 1990s, which was still “a very classical education’ with little attention to the artform of photography. She funded this by following her family by working for Lufthansa. While there, she supported their cultural department, an experience she credits with influencing her subsequent career path by discovering the potential of corporate art programs. Having received her Master of Arts-degree in 1997, she looked for jobs that combined her interest in art and the corporate world. She joined Deutsche Börse Group in 1999, when the collection of contemporary photography had just started.
The Art Collection Deutsche Börse originated with the company’s move to a new headquarters Its mission was to focus on contemporary photography, to do in depth collecting going into series (influenced at that time by the practice of the Becher School and their students), to be of museum quality and remain separate to the agenda of the business. “Not one work of art has ever or will ever be sold”, as Beckmann explains, “It was conceived as a central and sustainable aspect of the corporate culture of the Group ”. These standards were defined by Jean-Christophe Ammann, the curator of the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt at that time, who advised Deutsche Börse in establishing its collection. Beckmann credits him with creating a strong foundation to guide the collecting process within the organization, and she grew her knowledge and experience alongside of him in the early years.
The collection encompasses work from Walker Evans until the present day. Beckmann’s approach to acquisitions is considered and methodical. Works may be by established names or emerging photographers but are chosen for their individual strength and longevity. “I really take time for the acquisition of a new work. We acquire a position, never just a single image, which needs a lot consideration. It’s always a series or part of a series”. In addition, new acquisitions need to relate to the existing inventory: “I see the collection as a growing body, with all these dialogues between the works… It’s about how artists perceive the world. How they bring their visual ideas about the moment they live into their images… Even if we are thematically open, all the works have the exploration of the conditions of human existence in common”.
For someone influenced by the photography of Time Life, it is not surprising that documentary forms one of the key genres Beckmann focuses on “we have a long tradition of documentary photography in our collection, and it’s something that I always believed in and still do today.” This is also reflected in her most recent acquisition of works by the American photographer Philip Montgomery from 2020’s Foam Talent award, as well as her long engagement with the work of Magnum’s photographers. Her first Magnum acquisition was that of the German photographer Thomas Hoepker, and she has since brought in groups by Olivia Arthur, Peter van Agtmael, Werner Bischof, Bruce Davidson, Cristina de Middel, Nikos Economopoulos, Paul Fusco, Philip Jones Griffiths, Harry Gruyaert, Ernst Haas, Susan Meiselas, Martin Parr, Paolo Pellegrin, Moises Saman, Alec Soth and Mikhael Subotzky. Magnum’s Global Exhibition Director, Andrea Holzherr, also currently sits on the Foundation’s Board, Cristina de Middel will join in November.
Beckmann is rigorous and focused in her approach to collecting photographs: “I prefer to get in connection with the artists after we buy the work, because the personality of the artist and the works can be so different…Knowing someone personally always makes a difference and may have an influence on your judgement.” However, the ongoing connection and sense of community with the photographers in the collection is a source of immense pleasure. “There is a close and longstanding relationship with many of the artists, many of them come to our exhibition openings or other events.”
With the aim of educating and informing the staff and clients of the wider Deutsche Börse organization, the foundation has to date published six books on its collection. These are gifted to both its staff and the featured photographers. The collection sits at the heart of the Deutsche Börse’s headquarters: The Cube, located in Eschborn near Frankfurt. “When people come into our space, the artworks are the first thing they see,” Beckmann says. Works from the collection are hung in offices across the business and its multiple sites from Singapore to Luxembourg. For Beckmann her role is about “dialogue and communication… because it’s a non-museum environment, but also because I think it’s very important to create an understanding and interest and find the right language to do so.” As part of their education and engagement program the organization regularly offers guided tours through the exhibition to staff and the public, and open the space up during events, such as the Night of the Museums in Frankfurt.
Beckmann also oversees a busy exhibition program at the premises of Deutsche Börse and with other institutions, which includes projects that are outside of the collection. “We are constantly looking for collaborations”. These have included showing exhibitions such as Magnum’s First and Magnum Contact Sheets. More recently, she co-curated with Mirjam Kooiman from FOAM, an exhibition on the history of Magnum’s commissioned work; “Open for Business”. This subject appealed to her own experience of working between the corporate and artistic worlds: “the exciting thing was to create an exhibition on this topic knowing that many artists have done commercial assignments to finance their living, but also because they often represent interesting artistic challenges, or provide access to institutions or locations where they would not normally go. Yet it’s been a topic, that’s not exactly hidden, but it’s something which artists would often not speak about and you can’t find it on their websites.” The exhibition is divided into eight chapters looking at different types of commission (industrial, fashion, etc.) and presenting original source material in the form of tear sheets, notes, posters and books alongside exhibition prints. Shown in Frankfurt late last year it will travel to FOAM in the Spring of 2022.
The third pillar in the foundation’s programming is its commitment to support contemporary photography and its artists via awards and funding. Best known, is the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, run in partnership with The Photographers Gallery in London “still one of the biggest collaborations we have in supporting the medium”. Begun in 1997, Deutsche Börse became involved in 2004. Beckmann broadened the scope to a European prize nominated by academics, raising the prize money and presented their first award in 2005. She serves every year on the judging panel alongside a changing group of practitioners, curators and thinkers about photography, with Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers Gallery as Chair. The exhibition of the four shortlisted artists is shown in both venues, however, the winning work doesn’t automatically go into the Deutsche Börse collection. This is not the case with their more recent support of the Foam Talent Programme, which brings together 20 artists from all over the world, from which Beckmann does select a body of work, “a commitment to collecting young artists from all over the world.”
"What is so fascinating about [photography] is to see how the younger generation — even though so many things have been photographed — find a new, surprising, fascinating way of looking at things."
- Anne-Marie Beckmann
Newer still is an annual collaboration with the Goethe Institute in Paris “La jeune photographie allemande”, which she co-curates each year from the work of one photography class in Germany and exhibits during Paris Photo. In addition, the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation has launched two awards for people writing and thinking about photography with the, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photografie (DGPh).
“…We focus on the medium and support it in multifarious and very diverse ways – on a local, national and international level.” The rigor and expansiveness of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation program has been driven by Beckmann over the past two decades. Generous and determined, committed and ever curious, she is a key figure in contemporary photography: “The medium has a long history, it has been called dead so many times. What is so fascinating about it is to see how the younger generation — even though so many things have been photographed — find a new, surprising, fascinating way of looking at things. How the medium grows and brings in new possibilities remains very interesting.”