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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The New York Photo Festival Comes To Town

I spent the day in Dumbo at NYPF, and thought I'd do a wrap up of what I saw and heard. I would have included the photos I took, but I lost the cable to my camera while out and about (if anyone finds a small black pouch with a black velvet ribbon and a small cable inside, it's mine!). So without further ado, here's what I saw and thought...

The day started with an 11am panel headed by The New Yorker's Visual Editor Elisabeth Biondi, called: New Directions in Storytelling . On the panel were Gillian Laub, Jeff Jacobson, Lauren Greenfield and Rob Hornstra. All in all I found it really uninteresting, with nothing illuminating about working with multi-media as opposed to still image. Now don't get me wrong, I think Lauren Greenfield has a knack for finding interesting ways of looking at the world, and I applaud her successes, but what she showed us was basically film work that followed a traditional format. I did really like the teaser she showed of her work from Fashion Week. That seemed unique, but she didn't talk about it (I think there's a longer version being shown tonight).

Gillian Laub
showed a project about segregated proms in Georgia that didn't really create a new form of storytelling as much as added sound interviews over still images. The really exciting person for me was Rob Hornstra, who came right out and said he has no interest in adding moving image or sound to his work. He adds text in his books, and said "I believe the written text leaves more to the imagination." I'm looking forward to his solo presentation tomorrow.

I followed that up with a look at the Fred Ritchin curated show: "Bodies In Question." An interesting mix of work including Michael Wolf's Paris street views made through Google Streetviews. The work was as interesting to me as it was chilling to think about constantly being watched from above (and I don't mean that in a religious way).

Marc Garanger was sent by the French government in 1960 to take ID portraits of native Algerian woman. He later returned to try and find some of the now elderly woman (he found several), and the juxtaposition of the mugshots with the warmth of the women he revisited was thoughtful.

I also found myself deep in thought looking at Jessica Ingram's work "A Civil Rights Memorial," landscape photographs marking the site of murders during the days of the struggle for voting rights in the deep South. The mundane parking lots and empty roads belie the incredible brutality of the murders that took place, many at the hand of the KKK.

It was then on to Smack Mellon Gallery to see Erik Kessels curated show "Use Me, Abuse Me." It was a fairly interesting take on the manipulation of photos, and included 3 pieces by Osang Gwon, a Korean artist who carves figures out of foam and covers them with hundreds of photos to create a life-size, real person (although there was one about twelve feet high).

As much as I find the way he works fascinating, I couldn't help but wonder why the one woman he rendered this way was on all fours with her ass in the air. The three male figures were just standing around the gallery. I am so tired of this shit.

The Tobacco Warehouse was full of a lot of photojournalism, including some wonderful work from Anthropographia 2010: Human Rights & Photography. There was a lot to see, even if each photographer only got a few photos to show. But it does reaffirm the power of still imagery.
There was also a fascinating look at North Korea called "Red Land" by photographer Liu Yuan, made through window of a sleeper-car compartment while traveling across the railways of North Korea in 2008. A sad and bleak journey through a land we rarely see.

In the afternoon I went to the Aperture panel, "Emerging Artist Support Systems" which I was pleased to find had some actual practical information to give people, including information about residencies and how they can really help a photographer meet curators and people who can move a career forward. Justine Reyes showed the "Vanitas" work she did during a month in Woodstock (above), Hank Willis Thomas spoke about how contacts made at Review Santa Fe helped lead his career forward. He called himself a "visual-cultural archeologist" (below). Both he and Justine talked of the value of community, as did the final panelist, Brian Ulrich. All in all a good lecture, with part two coming tomorrow (where they talk about funding, fellowships and portfolio reviews). I'll be looking forward to it.

I've always wondered why the festival seems so out of touch with the photo community that I exist in. I would love more photographers of all genres to have the chance to show their work, leaving some of the high brow academic art photography in the background. I'd like to see a more democratically curated festival filled with surprises and great work. DUMBO is full of large expanses of blank walls that seemed to be begging for projected photography. Why not use the outside as well as the inside of the neighborhood? I always come looking for surprises and leave feeling strangely unmoved. How great would it be if everywhere you looked as you walked around photography hit you right between the eyes?

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you Stella. It is always refreshing to hear your thoughts. I agree with you regarding the woman styrafoam figure. I also just wanted to say that part of the problem with these festivals is that they seem to have the same people curating/judging. I am not picking on NYPH photo or even the particular judges. I just wonder how Kathy Ryan ever has time to put a magazine out with all that stuff she and her husband curate. Also it would be nice to get less well known players in the line up all the time. I dunno. I just like to be surprised. Thanks, Susana

May 14, 2010  
Anonymous Beth said...

I also attended the first day and agree with every paragraph of your review. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who came out curiously unmoved. Hopefully, one day the festival will turn into a great tradition, but it's got a ways to go.

May 14, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're exactly right... So much of the work seemed to have a foundation in arrogance instead of curiosity lending a weird sort of projection about the world.

May 15, 2010  

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