Mary Virginia Swanson is an innovator, educator, author, advisor and entrepreneur in the field of photography. Ms. Swanson counts among her consulting clients internationally known artists and respected arts organizations. Unique among advisors in our field, her broad background and professional reputation offers a broad range of perspectives on both the making and marketing of art.
After receiving her MFA in Photography (Arizona State University, 1979) she directed educational programs for The Friends of Photography including the Ansel Adams Workshop, headed special projects at Magnum Photos, established a summer educational institute at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and in 1991 founded SWANSTOCK, an innovative photo agency that managed licensing rights for fine art photographers. During her career she has coordinated educational, exhibition and publication programs for a wide range of institutions and organizations. Her seminars, workshops and lectures on trends and opportunities in photography have aided countless photographers in moving their careers to the next level.
in the fall of 2015 Ms. Swanson accepted the position of Executive Director of the 2016 LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph (June 6-12 2016,) which featured LOOK3 EDU, a full educational component including an evening with the PDN 30 Emerging Photographers Seminar as well as two days of programming focusing on emerging markets for photographers. LOOK3 PITCH, a juried portfolio review opportunity was paired with an open portfolio sharing event for all those registered for LOOK3 EDU. The roster of speakers in both EDU and Featured Photographers who presented their work on the stage of the historic Paramount Theater was the most diverse in LOOK3’s history, spanning age, race, sex and project themes. 15 exhibitions were mounted in downtown Charlottesville for the public to experience, as well as inaugural LOOK3 Photo Fair and LOOK3 Family Photo Day. LOOK3 2016 under Swanson’s direction was considered among the best Festivals in its 10-year history.
Upon completion of the 2016 Festival, Ms. Swanson elected not to continue at LOOK3 for a second year, encouraging the organization to hire a locally-based Executive Director to build on the community relationships initiated and/or strengthened during her 2016 tenure.
Ms. Swanson returned to her home base of Tucson, Arizona and satellite office in New York City and re-ignited her highly-regarded consulting practice, counting LOOK3 among her arts organization clients.
She continues to be sought-after as a mentor to emerging and established artists, helping them navigate our changing industry. A highlight of Ms. Swanson’s teaching year is her “MVS Master Class” with acceptance by portfolio only; the 2017 Master Class will take place in Tucson, Arizona January 17-22, 2017 (applications open now).
Ms. Swanson is the author of The Business of Photography: Principles and Practices, and coauthored with Darius Himes Publish Your Photography Book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, updated and revised 2014). Her forthcoming title Finding Your Audience: An Introduction to Marketing Your Photographs is in the final phases of research and nearing completion, anticipated Spring 2017. Swanson has contributed articles in numerous publications, including Photo District News, British Journal of Photography and the compilation The Education of a Photographer.
Swanson has worked as a consultant and advisor to artists and arts organizations around the world, including Blue Earth Alliance, the ASMP Foundation, the New Orleans Photo Alliance, En Foco and Texas Photographic Society. She serves on the Director’s Visiting Committee of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona and on the Board of Advisors of the New Orleans Photo Alliance. She continues her presence at industry events including speaking at PhotoPlus Expo, Society for Photographic Education (SPE) conferences, PhotoNOLA, North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA) and participating in portfolio review events in the US and abroad.
Ms. Swanson is the 2013 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Griffin Museum of Photography 8th Annual FOCUS Awards. In 2014 she received the Susan Carr Award for Education from ASMP, an award named in honor of Susan Carr (1963-2012), a former ASMP President, Director of Education and strong advocate for industry awareness.
Ms. Swanson received the 2015 Honored Educator Award from the Society for Photographic Education, an honor rarely bestowed on a educator working outside traditional academic institutions. The first recipient of this award, established in 1979, was historian and author Helmut Gernsheim (1913-1995) whom MVS had the good fortune to meet during her graduate studies, accompanying him to the 1979 Awards celebration. There were some gaps in awarding this honor during the early years of the Society, but since 1990 an Honored Educator has been named each year. Other recipients include John Wood (1983), Herbert Schiller (1984), John Schulze (1985) , Roy DeCarava (1986), Gisele Freund (1998), Eliot Porter (1990), Marion Post Wolcott (1991), Robert Heinecken (1992) Donna Ferrato (1993), Esther Parada (1994), William Christenberry (1995), Darryl Curran (1996), Nathan Lyons (1998), Naomi Rosenblum (1998), Carl Chiarenza (1999), Jerry Uelsmann (2000), Thomas Barrow & Betty Hahn (2001), Bart Parker (2002), Evon Streetman (2003), Jerome Liebling (2004), Linda Connor (2005), Carl Toth (2006), Rod Slemmons (2007), Patrick Nagatani (2008), John Pfahl (2009), Dr. Deborah Willis (2010), Joyce Niemanas (2011), Reed Estabrook (2012), Elaine Mayes (2013). In 2014 the Award was bestowed on Susan kae Grant, whom along with Ms. Swanson annually copresent a special seminar for SPE National Conference volunteers and scholarship recipients entitled “A Life in Art: The Realities and the Economy.”
This prestigious Award was presented to Ms. Swanson on March 13th, 2015 at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Photographic Education in New Orleans.
ON PUBLISHING PHOTOBOOKS:
From 2004-2007. Swanson co-authored, with publisher/editor Darius Himes, a column on “Publishing The Photographic Book” in the PhotoEye Booklist, an innovative quarterly publication on photobooks that was syndicated syndicated in American Photographer. Publication of the print version of this quarterly magazine concluded in 2007 when the publisher decided to take the magazine to an on-line format. Swanson and Himes worked on separate projects for the next several years, she continuing researching trends in our industry and sharing her perspectives with a diverse range of clients, from Epson USA to individual artists, and dozens of conferences and college classrooms . During this period Himes founded Radius Books with three other Santa Fe-based colleagues, releasing its first list of titles Fall of 2007; he continues to be involved today as a member of the Board of Directors. In 2009 the photobook publishing world was undergoing change in two key areas: print-on-demand for authors held the future of self- publishing in its technology, and the collectible market for photobooks was on the rise; it was during this time that the two authors reunited to grow their 12-segment series into a proper book, submitting their proposal to Princeton Architectural Press which contracted the title for a Spring 2011 release, to be designed by David Chickey of Radius Books and featured the contributions of 58 colleague as “Industry Voices” within the title. The book took the same name as the earlier co-authored column “PUBLISH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK” (Princeton Architectural Press, Spring 2011; French language edition 2012. Swanson and Himes have recently completed major update to the title, adding an additional signature of content including expanded information on self-publishing production and marketing, digital publishing platforms and more (Revised & Updated 2nd edition released May, 2014). Visit www.publishyourphotographybook.com to learn of upcoming lectures and seminars related to publishing.
Swanson maintains a popular blog on opportunities for photographer, Marketing Photos which can be found within this website here. Swanson is based in Tucson, Arizona and New York City.
Mary Virginia Swanson is widely respected as a leader in the fields of licensing and marketing fine art photography. Ms. Swanson is an expert in career development within the fine art, commercial and photojournalism fields, and is sought after as an educator and consultant.
While attending college at Arizona State University’s noted MFA Photography program, Swanson was the student director of Northlight Gallery, and completed an internship at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) where she served as research assistant to the MIA’s Curator of Photography, Carroll T. Hartwell, for the publication The Making of Collection (Aperture, 1982). It was while conducting research for this project that Swanson established professional relationships and friendships that she maintains today with many of today’s most revered photographers.
After completing her degree program 1979 (MFA, Photography) Swanson was hired as an Administrative Assistant at the Friends of Photography (FOP) in Carmel, California, an organization founded in the 1960’s by Ansel Adams, Beaumont Newhall and other key figures of the day. Under the direction of James Alinder, FOP embarked on a growth campaign; Swanson headed the expansion and management of its educational programming, including the famed Ansel Adams Workshops, bringing hundreds of eminent photographers to teach in the programs at FOP. Among the popular workshops she developed were “The Photograph as Document” with faculty Lou Bernal, Morrie Camhi, Danny Lyon, Mary Ellen Mark and Burk Uzzle, and “Publishing the Photographic Book” with faculty Nicholas Callaway of Callaway Editions, Dave Gardner of Gardner Fulmer Lithograph, artist/publisher Ralph Gibson, book designers Peter A. Andersen and Katy Homans, and Floyd Yearout of NY Graphic Society.
In spring of 1984, Swanson relocated to New York City to direct Special Projects for Magnum Photos, the landmark photojournalism cooperative founded by Henri-Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour and George Rodger at the end of World War II. Swanson’s mission was to enhance awareness of the work of Magnum photographers, and to establish opportunities for photographers within the fine art market. She worked with the rich archives of imagery held at the Magnum archive to coordinate exhibitions of contemporary and vintage work, as well as publications projects. It was during her tenure at Magnum that Swanson became aware of the increasing market for image licensing rights and reproduction.
In 1987, Swanson joined the team of photography professionals headed by David Cohen and Rick Smolan, founders of the “Day In The Life” series, to coordinate the traveling exhibition of Day in the Life of America. She later worked with this team to produce “SO FAR,” a publication celebrating ten years of Apple Computer. She served as Assignment Editor for this publication, overseeing production of images by noted photojournalists.
Following the Day in the Life project, Swanson joined the staff of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she held a joint position within the departments of Photography and Film (1989-1991). Swanson was the founding director of the American Photography Institute at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and directed the film festivals, an important launch of new talent with eagerly anticipated screenings in NYC and Los Angeles.
In 1991, Swanson relocated to Tucson, Arizona launched the business she had long envisioned, establishing SWANSTOCK, a landmark alternative agency that managed licensing rights for fine art photographers. At the time of its merger (1997) with The Image Bank, a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak, Swanstock represented the works of over 600 noted fine art photographers, including Tom Baril, Jo Whaley, Keith Carter, Linda Connor, Peter de Lory, Macduff Everton, Sally Gall, Mark Klett, Holly Roberts, Jeff Brouws and Olivia Parker among many others. The agency was the subject of cover stories in both Photo District News (PDN) and Advertising Ages’ Creativity Magazine in 1994, and articles in Communication Arts and Creative Review (UK) among other publications upon the launch of its marketing catalogue in 1998, which more closely resembled an art book than licensing sales tools of the day. Mervyn Kurlansky, a founder of the celebrated Pentagram design firm designed the book, gracing the cover with Keith Carter’s Sleeping Swan. In 1999, The Image Bank sold all its agencies to Getty Images, which subsequently closed Swanstock. This unique agency is fondly remembered by the photography and client communities alike as the preeminent source for fine art imagery and exceptional representation of extraordinary photographers. Many industry professionals continue to seek creative advice from Ms. Swanson in planning the role of exceptional photography their campaigns. Additionally, Swanson has served as an expert witness on legal cases dealing with valuation of commercial and fine art photography collections and archives.
Swanson continues her commitment to bringing photography and photographers to new markets through consulting, lectures and educational programming.
Swanson contributes articles to many print and online publications, including Photo District News (PDN) and PDNEDU, Digital Journalist, Nueva Luz, British Journal of Photography, The Education of a Photographer and teachingphoto.com, among others in the U.S. and abroad. She aids numerous other organizations in an advisory capacity, including PhotoNOLA, En Foco and Blue Earth Alliance and contributes seminars annually to many events including the Society for Photographic Education’s national and regional meetings and PDN’s PhotoPlus Expo.
Swanson can be found at important gatherings of emerging talent and industry professionals alike. She is a favorite Reviewer at noted photography portfolio events such as FotoFest’s The Meeting Place, PhotoNOLA and Photolucida in the USA, Fotografiska in Stockholm and in June of 2015 participated in Madrid’s PHotoEspana, contributing a major educational component as well important gatherings of emerging talent and industry professionals. She coordinated a day of educational programming at FotoFest 2002 – 2012 events. As far back as 2003 she was developing relevant programming for the Santa Fe Center for Photography’s Project Symposium, moderating a panel entitled “Strategies for Emerging Artists” that continues to be the basis of her work with artists. “Publishing the Photographic Book” as well as “To be Published, or Self-Publish?” are frequently updated to reflect changes in these industries. Swanson has moderated panels and contributed presentations to Photo LA (2004) and Photo San Francisco (2005) as well as leading Collector’s Walk-throughs of both art fairs. Today her programs are the focus of the educational component of PhotoNOLA, and she gives an annual presentation to the participants at Photolucida.
Since 2001, Swanson has been a popular presenter at PhotoPlus Expo, the annual gathering of industry professionals, product developers and manufacturers sponsored by Photo District News, held at the Javitts center in New York City. Among the seminars she has given to this professional audience are “Presenting Your Work to the Fine Art Market”, “Choosing a Career with your Camera” and “Licensing Rights: A Primer.”
In conjunction with the Center for Creative Photography’s ANSEL ADAMS CENTENNIAL Exhibition in 2002, Swanson presented a lecture entitled “Ansel Adams: Educator.” Subsequently, she expanded her original research on Mr. Adams, and presented “Ansel Adams: Advocate for American Photography” at the 2003 National Meeting of the Society for Photographic Education, and later at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in conjunction with Atlanta Celebrates Photography (October 2003), as well as at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in 2004. She reprieved this popular talk and updated it for presentation at the Center in 2012.
Since 1999, Swanson continues her passion of bringing professional awareness to photography students, gaining a solid reputation for one who brings practical advice to the classroom. She has spoken on careers in photography to graduating seniors and graduate candidates at many colleges and universities including Tyler School of Art, University of the Arts (both Philadelphia), Emerson College, Simmons and Massachusetts College of the Arts (Boston), College for Creative Studies (Detroit), San Francisco Art Institute, Pratt (Brooklyn), College of DuPage (Chicago area), School of Visual Arts, NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, University of New Mexico, Light Work/Syracuse University, Art Institutes of Minnesota, New England School of Photography, Savannah College of Art and Design and her alma matter Arizona State University among other institutions. Swanson is an active member of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE), rising through the ranks of regional and national board participation, culminating in chairing its national meeting in 1992. She has served as a presenter and portfolio reviewer at nearly every national meeting since her tenure on the board. In 2002, she co-coordinated a pre-conference workshop for scholarship recipients and conference volunteers (only) entitled “Making and Marketing Art: Strategies for a Career as an Artist” continues annually with co-presenter Susan kae Grant and moderator Dennis Keeley. Swanson was a member of the “The Fuji Talent Team” of Fuji Photo Film USA, which sponsored her “Target Your Market” lectures at regional meetings of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), including San Diego, Phoenix and Philadelphia in 2002. In 2007 she was a member of the “PDN ON THE ROAD” team which brought lectures on professional practices to six cities, sponsored by Photo District News Magazine. In 2011 she will participated in PDN’s newest event, “Outdoor World” in Salt Lake City as well as the revival of “PDN ON THE ROAD” in 2013.
In the fall of 2002, she developed a course for School of the Visual Art’s MFA Program called “Professional Practices”“Marketing Guidebook for Photographers,” which is used as a course book at many colleges. She continued to teach at SVA (BFA and MFA programs) during the fall semesters. She brought the course to Savannah College of Art and Design for the spring term of 2005, working with both BFA and MFA students as a Visiting Professor. Swanson accepted another Visiting Professor appointment Fall of 2009 to teach a Business of Art class for NYU’s Department of Photography & Imaging, Tisch School of the Art.
Swanson conducts marketing workshops for photographers at many prominent institutions, and conducts repeat visits annually to the Santa Fe Workshops. She has also presented lectures at Women in Photography/New England, Professional Women Photographers (NYC), PhotoAlliance (SF). Photography Center NW, Museum of Photographic Arts, FotoWeek DC, EnFoco (NY), Light Work (Syracuse), The Print Center and Philadelphia Photographic Arts Center (PPAC).
Among the many events Swanson was involved with in 2005 include leading a seminar on “Collecting Contemporary Photography” at photo l.a., and participating as a Portfolio Reviewer at Photolucida and Review Santa Fe, with summer 2005 teaching engagements at the Minnesota Center for Photography, Santa Fe Workshops, Santa Fe Center for Photography (SFCP), Photographic Center Northwest, International Center for Photography and Maine Photographic Workshops. She conducted a marketing workshop sponsored by SFCP hosted by Photo NY, and presented two seminars at PhotoPlus Expo sponsored by Photo District News magazine. Swanson contributed to an article on the book jacket market for fine art photography in PDN, and Swanson was again published in FotoMAGAZIN and Photo Technics Magazine (Germany), and most recently in the British Journal of Photography.
Swanson coordinated the ‘Creative Edge’ lecture sponsored by CENTER (formerly the Santa Fe Center for Photography and hosted by photo la entitled “The Business of being an Artist” and presented lectures moderated panels at the SILVER symposium (all 2006), the National Meetings of the Society for Photographic Education (annually) and the Agency VII West Coast Seminar (April, Pasadena). Swanson gave the keynote address for the New England School of Photography’s CROSS CURRENTS series for the past 9 years, as well as conducting her annual summer workshops in Santa Fe. She will once again serve as a Portfolio Reviewer at FotoFest’s 2016 Biennial as well as developing educational programs which in previous years have focussed on careers, photobook publishing and multimedia. More reviews in 2008 include Review Santa Fe and the Rhubarb Festival of the Image in Birmingham, England with her annual presentations at Palm Springs Photo Festival, FotoFest and PhotoPlus Expo. 2009 found her continuing her participation and presentations at schools, industry and portfolio review events, as well as a seminar at Light Work in Syracuse with co-presenter Susan kae Grant. Fall semester of 2009 Swanson was a visiting professor at NYU’s Department of Photography and Imaging within the Tisch School of the Arts, teaching The Business of Art. 2010 brought the addition of two new events to her calendar: Swanson presented a marketing seminar at the start of Flash Forward Festival in Toronto, and participating as a reviewer at the first Lensculture FotoFest Portfolio Reviews in Paris. In 2011, she presented marketing seminars at the PRC in Boston (January), Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (April) with additional presentations in LA/SF/Milwaukee/Chicago/Syracuse on the calendar, as well as participating as a portfolio reviewer at Filter Photo Festival in Chicago (October) and developed an educational seminar at the start of PhotoNOLA in New Orleans.
Swanson first worked with Eddie Adams and his amazing team at BARNSTORM in the mid-1990’s. Swanson returned to the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2011 and 2012, providing marketing lectures as well as reviewing portfolios of the photographers chosen to attend. For the 25th Annual “BARNSTORM” weekend she coordinated a panel on three markets for photographers featuring W.M. Hunt (collector/curator), Staci MacKenzie (graphic designer, Doyle Partners) and Jessie Wender, associate photo editor of The New Yorker at that time.
2012 saw Swanson continue her annual “CrossCurrents” lecture at New England School of Photography, bring educational seminars to SPE, NESOP and PhotoNOLA, as well as her local ASMP chapter (Tucson), as well a full-day seminars at the Griffin Museum and FotoWeek DC. In 2013 in she was a presenter on PDN’s “On The Road” seminars (Chicago, Los Angeles and Las Vegas) and assisted Look3 Festival of the Photograph in expanding their educational offerings, as well as serving as a presenter and portfolio reviewer.
In 2013, Swanson was invited to assist Look3 Festival of the Photography in expanding their educational offerings. She presenting a seminar on “Sustaining your Long-Term Personal Project” as well as presenting an evening lecture on marketing for artists and serving as a Portfolio Reviewer.
In October 2013 Swanson received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Griffin Museum at their 8th Annual FOCUS Awards. The American Society of Media Photographers presented her with the Susan Carr Award for Education in 2014, and the Society for Photographic Education named her Honored Educator in 2015, as well as a recipient of its 2015 Insight Award.
In recent years she has presented workshops at Aperture Foundation and been hosted by numerous universities and art centers including New York University, the Griffin Museum of Photography, Tyler School of Art and more.
During the fall of 2016 since retiring from LOOK3 she will be the Aperture Artist in Residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art, as well as presenting lectures at NYU, PhotoPlus Expo, the West/Southwest Conference of the Society for Photographic Education, Texas Photographic Society/Dallas Center for Photography, FotoWeek DC among other engagements.
Spring of 2016 will find Ms. Swanson at the Kansas City Art Institute, NANPA and the National SPE Conference with other engagements in the planning stages as of this writing.
PUBLISH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK: Beginning in the Fall of 2010, Swanson and co-author Darius Himes began their series of public lectures on their forthcoming title “Publish Your Photography Book” which will be released Winter, 2011 (Princeton Architectural Press). They presented lectures at PhotoPlus Expo, Corcoran Museum during FotoWeek DC, and the New York Public Library. A lecture/seminar series was developed in 2011 which brought Swanson and Himes t0 teach in venues in Gilbert (Phoenix) in January, Los Angeles in February and July, New York City in March and October, Santa Fe in April and June, and San Francisco in August. Their book was released as a French-language edition in 2012; an updated second edition of this title was released in late Spring 2014. Photographers and industry members alike regard this title as an essential guide to publishing one’s work.
When not meeting with students or working privately with photographers, or presenting at and attending industry events Swanson continues her industry and marketing research, her writings on photography, and her mentoring, advocacy and volunteerism.
Swanson currently serves on the Board of Advisors of Blue Earth Alliance, PhotoNOLA and the Director’s Advisory Council of the Center for Creative Photography. Previously Swanson served full board terms in the past with the Society for Photographic Education (Regional and National Boards), the Santa Fe Center for Photography (now called CENTER), the ASMP Foundation, and the Boards of Advisors of National Geographic Society’s ALL ROADS Photography Program, Photolucida, Houston Center for Photography and the Center for Photographic Arts.
Swanson maintains a popular blog on opportunities for photographer, Marketing Photos which can be found within this website here and publishes a downloadable RESOURCE GUIDE ($5) for all those interested in opportunities within our industry; it is updated twice annually. Her forthcoming title “Finding Your Audience: An Introduction to Marketing your Photographs” will be published in 2015. Swanson is based in Tucson, Arizona and New York City.