Five Minutes With . . . Brett Abbott

The High’s new photo curator
Brett Abbott has some big shoes to fill as the new curator of photography at the High Museum. His predecessor, Julian Cox, was known for moving outside the High’s ivory tower, and he raised the museum’s national profile with his 2008 civil rights exhibition, Road to Freedom.
But Abbott, thirty-two, is no slouch in the shutterbug department. Like Cox, he comes to Atlanta from Los Angeles’s J. Paul Getty Museum, where his 2010 exhibition of documentary work, Engaged Observers, drew the highest attendance of any photography show in the Getty’s history. It also nabbed him the photo world’s version of the Oscar, a Lucie, for Curator of the Year.
Upon assuming his new job this month, the Santa Barbara native says he’d love to bring a show of Cuban American photographer Abelardo Morell to the High, an exhibit he originally planned for the Getty. And “Sebastião Salgado is the kind of artist who is going to need a retrospective in the next five years or so . . . It could very well be here.”

How has your background informed your approach to photography? My father was an amateur photographer, and when I grew up, he had a darkroom in the house. He used to make portraits of the kids and go on trips and take lots of pictures.

Where should the High’s collection grow? It’s probably a good idea to build on its strength in American twentieth-century photography. And within that, there is a strong documentary impulse.

What one image would you pick to show future generations all that is transformative about photography? Something by William Henry Fox Talbot, who was one of the earliest practitioners and inventors of photography. His revolutionary work to capture traces of the natural world on light-sensitized paper has profoundly impacted our world.

What are you into, outside of photography? I love hiking and have made trips to the Eastern Sierras in California almost every year. Also, despite my career as a photography historian, I have a soft spot for the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance.

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap