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Festivals

FORMAT International Photography Festival video

posted by Michael on 22 April 2013

Broadcaster Sue Steward presents a survey of the recent FORMAT International Photography Festival held in Derby earlier this year.

The biennial is held in Derby and this year was on the theme "Factory". Fittingly Derby is the birthplace of mass production. Among some of the participants interviewed are collector Erik Kessels who explains his long term obsession for collecting discarded photo albums; his show "Album Beauty" is the centre piece show at the QUAD arts centre.

Similarly, another collector, Thomas Sauvin, presents more found images, this time from China. Photographer Brian Griffin talks about how he manipulates his subjects and Andreas Meichsner offers up a funny insight into German exactness in his series about consumer product testing.

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Review | Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

posted by Bridget on 14 May 2012

I have just returned from Toronto where I was invited to take part in the Portfolio Reviews that were part of the opening week of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

There is an ambition among the team of the CONTACT festival, to be the premier photography event in the world and if their rigorous curation, enthusiasm and very obvious passion for photography are anything to go by they will undoubtedly succeed.

This year's theme is "Public" and includes all aspects of photography this subject might bring to mind. Street photography of course has a large presence among the exhibitions but there is more to this collection of shows than the stereotype of amusing juxtapositions that are so often presented as street photography. The work chosen explores and expands the boundaries of what we think of as street work and in doing so brings together a wide range of photographic genres.

The principle exhibition "Collective Identity | Occupied Space" is spread over two venues, The University of Toronto Art Centre and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. It looks at how photography plays a crucial role in our understanding of socio-political issues. The curators, Bonnie Rubenstein, Matthew Brower and David Liss have divided the work between the two sites with projects based on protest and conflict at UTAC and the more traditional societal work at MOCCA.

mouanda

Each part of this show could exist as a coherent exploration of public based photography on its own but together they offer a deeper insight into what it means to operate within the public sphere. At MOCCA the work ranges from Google street views, [Jon Rafman]; "Stop Down", a series of photographs showing people in an elevator [Bill Sullivan]; "Tokyo Compression" commuters squashed against the window of a tube train [Michael Wolf]; "Sur le Trottier du Savoir", young kids reading books on the streets of Brazzaville [Baudouin Mouanda]; time lapse street views from Barry Frydlender and Philip Chancel's project "Arirang" - symmetrical observations of North Korea. Many of these projects are familiar but when seen together in this show they illustrate clearly how photography has a global reach and universal language.

Over at UTAC the work on show was perhaps more conceptual in execution and introduced me to photographers I hadn't seen before. Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber had looked at the 1967 student occupation of the Templeton Campus and presented a large mural style black and white photograph from which the physical forms of the protestors had been cut out. The cut out people were then re-presented on a facing mural. An extraordinary video of the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo which was shot from a balcony overlooking Tahrir Square offered a new narrative of the protests. Rows of praying men withstanding the force of water canons and protestors greeting the police and army with a smile and handshake, urging them to join the revolution. Nothing like the footage and images I had seen on the BBC or in the newspapers.

bitter weber

Also included in the UTAC show was a series of photographs by Ai Wei Wei called "Study of Perspective" in which the artist was shown giving iconic landmarks from Tiananmen Square, the Eiffel Tower to the White House the finger. An amusing visual and verbal pun, but perhaps a little childish and somewhat random in the buildings he chose to insult. Richard Mosse's infra red film project and Benjamin Lowry's "Windows, Iraq Perspectives" mixed concept with narrative, while Ariella Azoulay's "Unshowable Photographs" presented traced sketches of photographs of the 1948 deportation of Palestinians from their homes. Azoulay had found the photographs in the archives of the Red Cross, but was refused permission to exhibit them captioned as depicting deportation instead of their preferred term of migration.

Also showing at MOCCA is the exhibition "Street View", a selection of prints from the archives of the National Museum of Canada including photographs by Harry Callahan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Gilden, Leon Levinstein, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model and Weegee. Showing just a few images by each of these masters of the genre the audience is presented with an opportunity to draw comparisons between each of them. What is most striking is how mannered Cartier-Bresson's work appears when it is seen next door to the vital and immediate photographs of Weegee and Gilden. Callahan, who is as interested in the architecture as the people walking past it, offers an elegance of eye.

gilden

Two big hitters of the photojournalism world are in a two man show at the Royal Ontario Museum. Larry Towell [Canadian] and Donovan Wylie [Northern Ireland] were exhibiting work shot recently in Afghanistan. Towell's signature black and white, beautifully composed images ranged from the immediate consequences of the conflict; victims injured in the war and evacuations of injured US soldiers to stories about poverty and drug abuse amongst the Afghan population. As always with Towell, the images pierce through our conflict fatigue reminding us of the futility and hopelessness that is "The Great Game".

Wylie's project, "Outposts" is a continuation of his interest in the architecture of conflict and an acknowledged sequel to his "British Watchtowers" from Northern Ireland. Over a six week period from December 2010 to January 2011 Wylie was embedded as an Imperial War Museum artist with the Canadian ISAF contingent in southern Afghanistan. The Canadian force was positioned in defence locations built on the sites established during earlier conflicts. Often situated on top of hills looking out over the vast desert planes, the images give an overwhelming sense of futility. The country is so vast, so poor, so empty, that outside of its geopolitical significance it is hard to understand just what anyone is fighting over.

The exhibition at ROM was a little disappointing not for the photography, which was good and worth seeing, but because of the way it was hung. Wylie's images are very much a series, repetitive in nature and content and would have benefited from being shown all together. Instead they were artfully spread around the gallery, which reduced their impact.

donovan wylie

The segmented gallery walls didn't allow a conversation to happen between the work of the two photographers and it might have helped the visual dialogue if another photographer, such as Paul Seawright or Luc Delahaye had been included.

The Contact Photography Festival has both its own curated shows and is also supported by galleries and curators who produce their own exhibitions to coincide with the month long festival. With over 100 participating venues it was impossible to see them all, but the Contact team generously devoted two days of our visit to touring us around many of the locations so we could see as much as possible.

Contact had commissioned Melanie Manchot to produce a new work, which was shown at The Distillery. Melanie reworked photography she had discovered in the Distillery archives, which were then blown up into huge billboard sized prints and exhibited on the walls of the Distillery plant.

melanie manchot

Tim Heatherington's "Sleeping Soldiers" and Jim Goldberg's "Open See" were also presented on giant billboards and this form of outdoor display is one of the important features of the festival for curator Bonnie Rubenstein, who is committed to taking the work into the public arena. Of course the effect of seeing photographs on billboards changes it. We read images according to where we see them and Heatherington's images, shot for the glossy magazine Vanity Fair and displayed in places associated with advertisements deserves more consideration than I have space for here. But this coupled with Goldberg's hard hitting documentary of immigration shown in a downtown parking lot opens up exciting ideas of how we can view this form of photography. The experience of seeing Goldberg's work was influenced by a moment of happenstance as behind his installation the Toronto Globe and Mail had a large billboard advertising the newspaper's ongoing series – "The Immigrant Answer" exploring the many facets of immigration in Canada.

Other highlights of my trip to CONTACT included discovering the work of Suzy Lake, a performance artist who will be included in a group show "A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance Art" at the Tate Modern this Autumn; Lynne Marsh's "Upturned Starry Sky" at the Contact Gallery; a retrospective of Lynne Cohen, winner of the Scotiabank Photography Prize, at Design Exchange; Adi Ness at the Olga Korper Gallery and a two man show "Scenes from Here" at the Circuit Gallery which brings together projects by Eamon Mac Mahon and Jim Verburg.

jim verburg

The richness and variety of what is on offer in Toronto during the Contact Photography Festival is impressive and could certainly give Rencontres D'Arles and the Fotofest Biennial a run for their money as one of the world's premier photography festivals.

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A few thoughts on FORMAT 2011 in Derby

posted by Michael on 09 March 2011

The sun is shining and we are back in London after a great few days in Derby for the opening events of the FORMAT International Photography Festival.

Format International Photography Festival

Firstly I must congratulate Louise, Alfredo, Mike, Adam, Huw and a whole host of volunteers for a wonderful and stimulating time.

Bruce Gilden's Derby projectWe were treated to talks, comedy, dinners and fascinating people. Saturday featured a large number of speakers. Bruce Gilden was particularly great; I really, really, like his unapologetic approach. Instead of asking whether people object to being photographed he assumes they'll be ok with it or even might like it. A great video by Olivier Laurent of the BJP alongside Gilden's specially commissioned work showed his darting "in your face" approach in Derby city centre. And yes no-one seemed to mind. This I find refreshing at a time when too many of us defensively discuss photography as "exploitative" and often appear to think that somehow taking a photograph of someone takes something from them.

Sophie Howarth & Sara T'Rula introduced the Photographers' Gallery's street photography project. This is a project that encourages people to submit photographs on different weekly themes. It is a very successful participatory project. But what interested me is whether it was possible to judge if any of this work is good or bad photography, and unfortunately I failed to get my hand up in time to ask about this. What started me thinking about this was the comment from Sara who said that the people submitting work became "self-determining" as a community and so she dropped her title of moderator, because (I presume) it implies the making of a judgement on the work of this community. Nick Turpin said that "anyone can be a street photographer", which I don't think is the case; some people do it brilliantly and some don't, as was evidenced by the poorly considered and executed travelogue slide show on Saturday night (though Nick was also meaning that "street photography" has won a newfound popularity and hence participation should be encouraged). Sophie Howarth interestingly said she found the book form restrictive (she co-edited the very successful and impressive "Street Photography Now" book from Thames & Hudson) because there was always good new work to be found. Does this mean that making a definitive judgement about photography is problematic?

Mark Sealy from Autograph also spoke brilliantly, and although the link to street photography was loose he made some very interesting points and showed some great work; in particular I was taken by the work of the photographer who shot peoples' shadows (I apologise that I wasn't quick enough to write down his name – if any one can tell me it I'd be very grateful). I would have loved to have got a chance to discuss this further. What I took to be his central point was that "Africa" is too blunt a label to use when describing photography from the many different counties that make up the continent. It intrigues me as to how it is possible to take issue with an identity being assigned to group of photographers (i.e. African) when in fact what is being held up as their distinctiveness is precisely that they come from Africa, otherwise they are simply photographers in the general mix and could only be gathered together on the grounds of aesthetics or style or subject matter. I have always felt culture is fluid, interrelated and general and so cannot be ascribed as belonging to one group of people or another (though it may of course start in one place/group but everyone is influenced- there being no 'pure' culture as such). So if there is a problem with an identity being too crude a description then surely the thing is to abandon the identity approach and not to try and replace it with yet another identity?

The same event introduced Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman's series "Geolocation: Tributes to the Datastream", an intelligent and intriguing project using social media which leads neatly onto the last discussion of next day in which photographer/lecturer Amy Stein suggested that the internet may produce new forms of work shot specifically for the backlit screen and not the wall or book. I suggested that it already has had an influence in the sense that a lot of web photography is very compositionally simple and often the subject of the picture is right slap bang in the middle. Very much as an avatar image needs to be simple to be read, some photography is also becoming icon-like (in the sense of a computer icon).

Joel Meyerowitz's genuinely inspiring talk on Sunday morning outlined the career of someone who has gone the opposite way. His sophisticated ideas were all about imposing authorship onto an image and solving visual problems, such as moving the point of compositional interest to the edge of the frame and introducing chaos while still retaining structure. Meyerowitz as visual adventurer moved to large format, much to his friends' consternation, because he was lead there by the logic of these visual ideas. As my fellow Troika conspirator Bridget Coaker observed, there was a very telling question from someone in the audience asking why Meyerowitz said "make a picture" instead of "take a picture". This question for me clarified one of the problems with the blog type photography we see so much of; namely that an artist thinks and intervenes and actively "makes" pictures. To "take" a picture is the opposite and is a passive delivery process in which the photographer is merely a conduit and the photographs produced without the vital ingredient of intellectual engagement are just random visual noise.

FURTHER LINKS:

Format

Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman

Joel Meyerowitz

Mark Sealy

Amy Stein

Nick Turpin

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