Mary McCartney in Monochrome: An Interview with Izzy Sulejmani

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This month, British fashion and portrait photographer Mary McCartney will exhibit her work in Canada for the first time, with her debut show, Developing. McCartney will display her works at Izzy Gallery (106 Yorkville), which has featured renowned photographers such as Bert Stern, Lillian Bassman, Ellen von Unwerth, and, most recently, Albert Watson. Preparing to host the year’s most hotly anticipated exhibition, Izzy Sulejmani tells us about the upcoming show, his favourite pieces, and working in gray scale.

McCartney’s Developing will make its debut at Izzy Gallery Thursday, May 9, 2013.

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Why did you decide to bring Mary McCartney’s exhibition Developing to Izzy Gallery?

It’s pretty simple: we love her work. I first saw her work maybe two or three years ago. The first picture I saw was Victoria Plays Pool [pictured above]. I think when I saw it, I went to research everything that she had done, and then slowly I started to develop a feel for her work, and it fits exactly with what we do in the gallery. We do mostly fashion photography, and Mary’s work is beautiful.

If you had to describe the exhibition in one word, what would it be?


You’ve said before that it’s extremely time-consuming to exhibit a large-scale photography show. How long has Developing been in the works?

Developing was in the works for a year. It takes six months to a year to do a show like this properly. We got Mary’s pieces in December, and have been working on the final details of the show since then.

How do you decide the flow of the pieces shown in the exhibit?

It’s just a feeling; there are no precise rules. I worked with Mary and her team for about a week curating the show, laying out the pieces on the floor, deciding on the flow. Then we decided which pieces would go where and how the space was going to look. We had some specific ideas. For example, we will be featuring eight medium sized old-fashioned silver gelatin photographs. They are done in a dark room, which very few people do today with the abundance of digital technology. So they are pretty special. Mary does most of her large work as 1/1, which means you will never find another one in that size. Many photographers do ten, twenty, thirty—but she does only one in large scale. They’re really collector items.

Is there a large market for this kind of fashion photography in Canada?

You have to create a market. I do think there is a gap in the Canadian market for fashion photography. With every show we have done, it has created more and more interest and excitement for this genre.

Mary is known for her ability to capture a moment that gives us an insight on the subject in front of her. A very relaxed feel, that shows another side of her subjects. Is there any particular photo in the exhibit that’s your favourite?

I personally love the photograph called One [pictured below]. It’s a woman with one breast showing. I love the feel; it’s a very industrial feel in the back. I love the amount of grey, the amount of black, the amount of white, the shading. And she’s a soft girl amidst all this concrete behind her. It’s beautiful.

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Mary has worked with celebrities that range from Jude Law to Madonna. Whose portraits can we expect to see feature in the exhibition?

No celebrities. There is only one of Kate Moss; it’s the only colour photo that we are showing. There is one more of Kate Moss on the runway in black and white.

Why did you choose not to display celebrities in this show?

Once you’ve chosen three of four images for the show, it just dictates the whole show. There are going to be sixteen photographs in the show. It just happened; it wasn’t deliberate.

With art, you think everything is deliberate?

No, it’s more go with the flow. You know, there is a famous pair of collectors, Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. It’s a husband and wife. They are some of the biggest collectors in the world, and they never had any money. Once someone asked them, “How did you know thirty years ago to pick up a piece of cardboard and that one day it will be something? How did you know it was good art?” And the husband said, “If I had to think about the picture, I would never buy it. But if it hit me in the stomach, I would buy it immediately.” I think that people who can really reflect on the meaning of a picture are painters or photographers, because they are very close to it. And anybody else, even a critic, they don’t necessarily know the details of how it’s made, or the artist’s intentions. A photo has to hit you in the gut, and if you have to think about it, it’s not the picture for you.

Is that how it was with Mary’s photographs for you?

Yes. It’s just a feeling. Look at her photo Flora [pictured below], for example. You have to look at the cropping—it’s unbelievable. Mary is a master of cropping. There is no nose, no eyes, you see the beautiful lips, the focus is perfect and just where it’s supposed to be, but the cropping is the key. So you immediately feel something for it.

So Mary has never shown in Canada before. How did you convince her to show at Izzy Gallery?

With Mary, I reached out to her team and they liked the idea, the artists that we have worked with in the past, the way we work. We do two shows a year. We are not a gallery that carries fifty artists; we carry fifteen. And we don’t want to carry fifty. I want to be involved in the pieces the artists are making. I want to have something exclusive that you can’t find in galleries in London or Paris or New York.


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Living Large: Izzy Sulejmani, Izzy Gallery

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Anna in Calvin Klein Dress, near Abilene, Texas, 1987

We are art and photography enthusiasts, so it was hard for us to contain our excitement when we learned that internationally acclaimed photographer Albert Watson would be showing for the first time in Canada in Yorkville’s Izzy Gallery (106 Yorkville).

The Izzy Gallery has played host to the Canadian debuts of a number of high-profile photography icons; most recently German-born, Paris-based photographer Ellen von Unwerth made an appearance at her sold-out show “Caught!” Other industry icons who have had their Canadian exhibition debuts at Izzy Gallery include one of the most influential photographers of the fashion world, Lillian Bassman, who impacted the careers of Richard Avedon and Louis Faurer; and Bert Stern, who famously shot the last photographs of Marilyn Monroe just six weeks before she passed away.

With “Archive: Albert Watson,” Izzy Sulejmani, owner of Izzy Gallery, continues his white-hot track record of working with photographers who have made a global impact in art, fashion and commercial photography and showcase their most celebrated works in a large scale format. The “Archive” exhibition will be no different, featuring some of Watson’s most iconic shots and seminal works from throughout his 40-year career.

We met with Izzy to talk about his vision for the “Archive” exhibition, his love for big photos and what’s next for a space that is quietly, but steadfastly building a reputation for showcasing the works some of the biggest names in photography.

Kate Moss, Marrakech, 1993

1. What inspired you to open Izzy Gallery in 2008?

I used to sell paintings, mostly Canadian art. In 2004, I saw a photo of Marilyn Monroe [by Bert Stern]. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was massive and it just floored me. How the image looked, its visual force, it was incredible. I had never cared about photography before and I never cared about Marilyn before, and just like that, I fell in love with this photo and photography in general. I used to think that anyone could take a picture, but I learned that wasn’t the case. There is a difference between a normal photo and a silver gelatin or making a print by hand like Albert does. So after seeing this photo, I met some people, did research, read books, learned a lot about photography. And I’m a pretty quick learner.

2. How do you choose the photographers that exhibit at Izzy Gallery?

First, I have to love their work. I get them into the gallery because I love their work. It’s also very important for me to have an authentic relationship with the photographers. My goal was to create a gallery with international artists because we don’t have a fashion photography gallery in Canada that brings in these major international names. One of the biggest challenges that I experienced was convincing Lillian Bassman to show. And not only to show, but also to display her images in an oversized format – wall-sized. It was the first time she had had her work shown at such a physically large scale. But I convinced her. After Lillian, we showed Bert for the first in Canada. Also in large scale. Not only did we show his work in this new format, but he came to Toronto to be part of the his opening. This was a big deal [Stern is known for being extremely reclusive]. After you work with such icons like Lillian and Bert, doors start to open a bit more. It’s a small world. They all talk, they know each other, so you do a good job, establish a good relationship with them, and pay your bills on time. Very few galleries want to show big photography; it’s a huge risk and very expensive. Every show takes us a year and a half to prepare.

3. Why such a focus on massively sized photos?

A small photo, for me, doesn’t do anything.  I love the photographs to be huge. They should be bigger than life. One piece can change not just a room, but a whole space whether it is displayed in a home, an office space, a restaurant… Anywhere!

4. What makes Izzy Gallery unique? 

The list of the artists we represent and the way we present their work. In addition to only showing works on a big scale, we also frame these photos like they are masterpieces, because they are!  They deserve to be correctly presented. We’re influencing how people see and feel in their homes; how people perceive the image. An excellent frame really sets the scene, so to speak, and, when successful, enhances everything that is great about an image.

5. What can we expect to see at Albert Watson’s “Archive” exhibit?

It’s all black and white. We have a few photos that have never been shown before. The show is called “Archive” because it touches a bit on everything he’s done over the past 40 years. I’ve developed a process that has worked. I work with the artist to come up with the theme. Then I go through photography books for about four months and go back and forth with the photographer to select images for the show. That said, I know the space, every single wall here, how it shows the art. That goes with experience and you go with the flow. There’s no rule there.

6. What’s next for Izzy Gallery?

In May, we’re bringing in Mary McCartney. In the future, we’d love to bring in photographers like Steven Klein and Nick Knight who don’t normally deal with galleries. I would love to be the gallery that brings them in. Another is Mario Testino because he only sells through auction houses. I’d love to bring all three guys in!

Steve Jobs, Cupertino, 2006

“Archive: Albert Watson” will show at Izzy Gallery, 106 Yorkville Avenue from November 1 until the end of the year.