Sam Barzilay on Showcasing Photography in Shipping Containers


Not long ago, Photoville happened in NYC. The short event showcased the work of various artists, but in a totally non-traditional way. Photoville utilized pods—giant shipping containers—and gave the artists creative freedom to design the interior however they chose to show their photos. This newly formed tradition will continue at the upcoming DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn. We recently talked to Sam Barzilay about the idea of showcasing art in pods, and more about the festival.

Opening photo is by Li Hao's exhibition, "Worshippers."

B&H: Congratulations on Photoville. It was a big success. Where did you get the idea of using shipping containers (pods) to showcase artwork and photography?

Sam: The idea first surfaced during a walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park a couple of years ago. At that point, the park was still in its infancy, but the transformation of these vast waterfront spaces got us thinking about the lyrical beauty of re-contextualizing shipping containers as art spaces within the context of a former port re-invented as a vibrant park and cultural destination.

B&H: What were some of the challenges, and maybe surprises, that you discovered about showcasing photography this way?

Sam: Most artists are used to exhibiting their work in a room with flat white walls they can nail into, complimented by gallery lighting. In contrast, a shipping container presents them with undulating walls, construction lights, and a hard magnetic surface. For most, this is an opportunity to explore new ways of presenting their work, often making the container part of the exhibition itself. While there are a few people that find it hard at first to wrap their minds around such an unconventional space, eventually they see the advantages of such a raw space, which really compliments their work, and makes it so much more inviting and less intimidating.

B&H: Have you had other festivals inquire about exhibiting work in shipping containers? What’s been the general response from the photography community?  

Sam: In reality, we didn't set out to build a festival. We set out to build a village—a photographic village—where everyone feels welcome and sits down for a beer or some meatballs, and a hearty discussion on the state of photography or the latest camera gear. We're proud to say that the response from the community has been incredible. People came out in droves, saw powerful photography, hung out, and perhaps most important, they had a great time doing it. As for spreading the shipping container model to other festivals, we started fielding offers, proposals and questions almost as soon as Photoville opened that first weekend, and many of these discussions are still going strong. 

B&H: Can you tell us a bit about the Dumbo Arts Festival and your involvement?

Sam: The DUMBO Arts Festival is a community-based arts festival that grew organically over many years, and has turned into a major international festival, supported by the large number of artists that live and work in DUMBO. The first foto/pods deployment in 2011 combined shipping-container exhibitions, nighttime projections, and impromptu artist talks, and this year will bring back all of the same elements and positive energy to the streets of DUMBO.

B&H: What type of work are you looking to exhibit? And how can people get involved?

Sam: Our mission at UPI has always been to create opportunities for talented photographers to break into the New York art scene—and this event is no different. Rather than focus our sights on one type of photography versus another, what we want to see is photography that captures our attention, stands its ground, and works well inside a shipping container. With close to 200,000 visitors to the festival over three days, this is a great opportunity for artists to reach new audiences, and we welcome photographers of all styles and stripes to submit an exhibition proposal. It is also a great way for us to discover new work that we can present during other exhibition opportunities, or even during Photoville 2013.

For more info, interested photographers can visit our submission page at

B&H: What’s next for you guys? Should we expect more innovations and surprises in the future?

Sam: With Photoville's first edition solidly behind us, and two photo-fences under our belt, we've already started planning Photoville 2013, programming our upcoming season at the gallery, and of course, scouting for more iconic, outdoor locales to dress in large-scale photographs. But those are just a few (large) pieces of the puzzle. Recognizing the immense hurdles facing emerging photographers, we are constantly exploring areas where our industry's traditional models have failed to adapt to the new realities. So without tipping our hand too early, all we can say is that there are plenty of surprises up ahead, so watch this space!