Photo Curator Jobs

The photo curator is a relatively new development in the world of photography careers, but it is an exciting one, nevertheless. There are museums and art houses around the world that are opening up curator positions exclusively to those with a background in photography.

Tate Modern, in London, created its first photo curator position last October.

Photo curators collect, exhibit, research and maintain the photo collection at a museum. They are also responsible for the storage and presentation of photographical collections. At a museum, the curator’s position is perhaps the most important position of them all. The curator has many tasks, but their purpose, their goal is to interpret photographs in such a way that will educate a broad public base.

This position is especially difficult to break into and is not for the faint of heart. As a photo curator, you not only need to have a love of photography, you also need to love research. Most curators spend their time researching. Here are some other qualities you will need to become a successful photo curator:

  • Excellent communication skills: You may find yourself meeting with trustees, making public appearances, writing copy for your organization’s online/print publications. Many curators write and record the audio tracks for museum tours.
  • Managerial skills: Even at small museums, you may find yourself managing or training museum security, janitors, tour guides, docents and interns.
  • Business skills: As a photography curator, you will often do business with trustees, whose financial gifts keep museums in operation. You will also work with other curators to loan and borrow photos for or from your collection.
  • Higher Education: Photo curators go through rigorous educational training. Most museums require at least a Masters degree within your field of study, which often runs the gamut of art history to paining to photography. Large museums like the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc, require their curators to have PhDs in their field of study. In any case, you are expected to be an expert in historical, contemporary and technical knowledge in photography and art in general.
  • Multi Lingual: Speaking more than one language is not a necessity, but at large museums it is a definite plus. This job includes travel and dealing with a worldly public, so being able to communicate is very helpful.

Photo curators have interesting careers simply because the depth at which they are integral to museum prestige and operations. Curators must manage information intelligently and in a way that people from all around the world will be able to learn and appreciate the aesthetic narrative in your exhibit. Here is a detailed list of what a career in curating photography may entail:

  • Collection Development: A museum’s permanent collection is never fixed. It will be the photo curator’s job to add to the collection through gift, loan or purchase. You may also find yourself working with curators at other museums to loan artworks to other museums or to put permanent collections on traveling display.
  • Collection Management: This can include working with faculty and staff members on the proper methods of cleaning, preserving, hanging, displaying and lighting the collections.
  • Education: It is common to find curators who are former professors or art or photography (or the histories of either field). Given that curators possess a wealth of knowledge about photography, they are often the ones who educate the public about the history and practices of the field. You might find yourself training docents one day, mentoring interns the next and writing something for publication or presentation another day.

Getting started as a photo curator starts with education. After obtaining a master’s degree, experience in the field is crucial. The road to a career as a photography curator will most likely begin with an internship or volunteer job at a museum. You will likely work at other positions such as assistant photo curator, site administration or collection management. Most important in this career, is that you approach it with passion and reverence, because the photography curator will find that this career is enriching and exciting to himself but also to others.

Photo Curator Salary

For photo curators, there is an correlation between years of experience in the field and salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, photo curators earn an average of $43,000. Curators at federal institutions earn an average salary of $90,205.

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