Monday, 14 March 2011

Format Photography Festival

I have felt compelled to watch the horrific pictures coming out of Japan, as we all have. It is yet another unfathomable disaster and we seem to be here again, where you want so much to help but can do so little! Sitting in front of my screen, my endeavours to improve my photography or indeed view the good work of other photographers seems so futile.

However, I will nevertheless scribble some thoughts down about the Format Photography Festival while they are fresh in my mind. Good day 'twas too.

I didn't take notes on the day, I enjoyed, viewed and absorbed instead.  So I suspect my notes today will be comparatively brief compared to others. I'm not going to read anyone else's blog however, until I've written this, then I'm looking forward to hearing the thoughts of others!

Primarily I would like to thank Gareth and Jose for hosting the day and to the other OCA students - what a great bunch of people. It was really nice to meet you all and to see beyond the 'avatars'!  I thoroughly enjoyed discussing photography with the 'real' rather than the virtual people. And I'm sure my husband was very thankful too, he must wonder at what point his wife became such an 'anorak'!!

Due to family commitments, a day trip to Derby of all places was a real treat.  I even enjoyed the 3.5 hour drive down - uninterrupted peace, a rare commodity in our house. I too often see photographs in a low-res format on my screen, no bigger than a thumbnail - hmmm, it's not good is it!! So to see the prints in the manner the photographer had intended and to see how they have presented their images, the order and the sequence is fascinating. 

A few observations I picked up on:
- Technology is infiltrating the art: Michael Wolf has used google images, Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman have used the gps location of tweets and photographed it.  Hin Chua has used satellite images and Kurt Tong, who was blocked in the US from taking photographs for national security reasons, has used google street view and recreated his journey. I have never considered using my photography in this way.
- Size matters: I remember reading somewhere (I think it may have been one of the OCA tutors) who said that traditionally in galleries art is big and photography is small - print size that is. Contemporary photographers seem to disregard this.  
- Contemporary photographers use all manner of print materials, sizes and methods to present their work - there seems to be no set convention.
- Street photography seems to have had a revival/resurgence this past couple of years and this has been very positive for the genre, but I think as a result it is extremely difficult to do something 'new'. To not photograph a cliche and to find something truly original is a tough challenge. I saw more than one HCB-influenced photo. 
- There is most definitely two camps - black and white v colour. That sounds like the bleeding obvious and Jose did challenge my own preferences on this front.  Sepia is noticeable by its absence. Photographers fall into one camp or other, rarely both.
- Sequencing of images - anything goes! Randomly placed like Michael Wolf, framed traditionally like Giacomo Brunelli or unconventionally as Wassink Lundgren did with thirteen photobooks opened on different pages. Polly Braden was the only exhibitor I saw who used 'wooden' frames. 
- Yep, film is most definitely still in vogue with contemporary street photographers.
- So many street togs talk about photographing the quirky, slightly incongruous, 'extraordinary in the ordinary' aspects of street life.  
- there is some interesting work coming out of new destinations such as eastern Europe and the far east, perhaps areas less riddled with cliches. They carry an inherent social documentary weight to them but seem less frivolous somehow. As Gareth pointed out, areas of change seem to offer good creative opportunities. Frederic Lezmi is an example:
I have been searching for the „in between” – whatever lies geographically as well as culturally between my world here in the midst of Europe and my long term focus of interest in the Middle and Near East.
There are others too, such as George Georgiou who has looked at modernisation in the intersection between Eastern and Western cultures in Turkey. There are others such as Zhao Liang in China and Raghu Rai in India.
- Joel Meyerowitz.  I had a number of interesting discussions with both Stan, Rob and later with Gareth.  A biographical account of his 40 years of photography summed up in 6 images showed an interesting progression, culminating with his last image being taken on a large format camera. Perhaps shirking the digital and technological age of photography. Quite ironic really. He is clearly still a big influence on contemporary street togs.
- Amy Stein.  I loved the vivid colour of her work and the impeccable composition an almost 'art-like' feel to the photographs. There is some good stuff on her website too.
- Martin Kollar. Not dissimilar to many of the 'quirky' contemporary street photography out there at the moment, but again, I'm drawn to the almost 'art-like' qualities of some of his images .
- Jeff Mermelstein. Amazing photographer but dare I say I wasn't so keen on this 'running' set. I have often thought about sequences or series in street photography in general.  But I'm just not sure it suits the spirit of the street photography genre. I like the idea of random serendipity and as soon as you try to find order in it, it sort of loses its appeal for me.  Well that's just me.  I'm sure there are many who will disagree. 

Because I have been studying street photography in quite some detail over the past six months it was nice to see a good number of familiar photographers and recognizable images.  It did however mean there were fewer surprises and the images perhaps cumulatively had less impact. I remember the first time I saw Matt Stuart's pigeons on the front of Street Photography Now thinking 'that is so simple yet so clever'.  Bruce Gilden's approach was really shocking when I first saw his work on youtube and how he approached it. Seeing his take on Derby was in some ways more of the same. A good few photographers like Nils Jorgensen, Nick Turpin, Polly Braden, George Georgiou, Bruno Quniquet amongst others, I have been introduced to through the Street Photography Now project and book.  There really are some great 'living' street photographers.

But there was a lot to see and a lot I hadn't seen before too. In the morning I was a diligent student but I must admit, in the afternoon, I was struggling to see things with fresh eyes - it became ever harder to find an image that 'stood' out.  I did enjoy the video of the In-Public photographers. 

There is quite a lot for me to take away from this.  And strands of thought I would like to pursue further are:
- to look further at photographers exploring new destinations 
- continue with the rural street photography theme
- black and white v colour schools of thought
- technology in photography
- the 2d becoming 3d
- fine art in street photography
- the need to look for a different angle on street photography

hah, that will do...I'm done...


  1. Hi Penny. It was great to meet you on Saturday. I hope to get a chance to catch up again. It's interesting to see your take on the day. You've picked up on different artists than me, mostly. In part I think that may be because there was just so much to see. I've bookmarked lots of names and links to follow up. I found it all very stimulating and I look forward to following your further explorations in this genre.

  2. Hi Eileen, it was really lovely to meet you too and I'm sure there will be other opportunities to catch again in the near future. There was huge amounts to see at the festival - I sort of feel 2-3 days would probably do it justice. Need to check out your observations too shortly.

    Best wishes

  3. 2-3 days would do it justice, but I feel that this would need to be spread over a few weekends or something - I think a single weekend would put the street photography processing part of my brain into overload! Whilst I know the event was curated towards street, I think a variety of genres would keep it a bit fresher for the viewer, helping to stave off that "tired" feeling at the cost of cohesiveness.

    I find it interesting to read different views (yours, Eileen's, Stan's, Jose's and others), and that some have been really negative. Just goes to show it's not everyone's cup of tea.

  4. Hi Penny, nice to meet you on Saturday - congratulations on taking so much out of the day without taking notes!
    I was also struck by the lack of 'big prints', but I wondered whether, in the end, it was partly down to space. There were a lot of exhibitors & maybe they had been resticted on the sizes they could submit.
    I don't think Meyerowitz has particularly rejected the digital age (incidentally, the 9/11 site images were also shot on a large format view camera, which he lugged around the site every day amongst all the debris). I'm pretty sure he gets the images scanned into digital format for processing and printing.

  5. Hi Rob and Stan. It was great to catch up on Saturday - the human contact I think does make a difference to the electronic discussions thereafter. I agree with you Rob about the 'overload', I don't know how you would get around that unless you live around the corner. With regards Meyerowitz I would like to look at his work in a bit more detail and have a better understanding as to why he has taken certain aesthetic decisions in his long career, he must have been an interesting artist to study....and as for the toilet roll...well...