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Monday, June 25, 2012

All Roads lead to PHOTOVILLE

I spent a much too hot Saturday at Photoville with Julie Grahame, as curious as to what it would be as to seeing particular people and talks.  It was a very long walk from DUMBO to Pier 3, and that could have been explained more clearly on the website.  When we got closer, we got to see the photography on the fence, and I was pleased that the work was varied and looked as good as it did.  I would have liked to see the photos larger, but I always want that.

When we finally got to the site it was time for Jennifer Schwartz talk about her “Crusade for Collecting,” and find out more about her ideas about presenting photography.  I should say here that I supported her Kickstarter project to raise money, and I consider Jennifer a friend.

As a gallery owner in Atlanta who represents 16 photographers, Jennifer is full of exciting and clever ideas on how to expand not only the reach of the photographers, but how to expand the market for collecting photography.  To that end, her planned dinners with photographers and collectors, the ”Crusade" which will travel to 10 cities starting in March, and her partnerships with museums and schools shows Jennifer to be a passionate supporter of photography.  I love her ideas, her energy and her humor. 

Photoville is set up with large metal containers full of photography, some food trucks and a covered tent for the speakers.  On a day when the heat must have been in the 90’s, there was no respite.  But I did see some wonderful work, and the presentation of it was well done for the most part.

Since I plan on going back next weekend to hear more speakers, I didn’t want to look at everything.  But I did look at “Cruel & Unusual,” a fantastic exhibit of photography done in prisons curated by Hester Keijser and Pete Brook, and presented by Noorderlicht (which needs your support).  Not only was there incredible variety to the work, but also much of it was new to me.  The panel moderated by Pete Brook, and featuring Lori Waselchuk, Deborah Luster and Yana Payusova was enlightening.  That it was a panel of women photographers was even better.

Yana Payusova combined her portraits of young prisoners in Russia with the colors and iconography of Russian to bring the prison culture and religion closer to the predominant culture of the country.  As a painter first, Payusova felt her photos needed more context to speak.

Lori Waselchuk spoke of "Grace before Dying," her incredible project featuring the hospice program of Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana.  Begun in 2007, this award-winning project continues to travel the country starting conversations about our prison system.  By collaborating to make quilts with the men in the hospice program who make funeral shrouds for prisoners, Waselchuk has added an easily accessible and unexpected aspect to the project and the larger issue of who we imprison and how we feel about them.

Deborah Luster comes to this kind of photography from a very personal place—a contract killer murdered her mother when she was young.  Photography became a way for her to work through her feelings.  While hired to shoot a story about poverty in Louisiana she went up and knocked on the door of a prison and was allowed in to shoot the inmates.

Seeing that there were several dress-up holidays in the woman’s prison, Luster began shooting small photographs she gave away to her subjects.  Overall, Luster has given away about 25,000 images, taken in both men and women’s prisons. 

This made Luster realize, “the power of the personal photo in peoples’ lives.”  Some people had been in prison so long they had no idea what they looked like.  Others sent the photos to family members.  Luster told the story of one woman with 19 children who had been in prison for many years and had no contact with her family.  After sending the photos to them, three of the children came to visit.

I am looking forward to next weekend and the talks offered, and will look at the balance of the exhibits then.  I do have questions about Photoville, especially what was the money raised on Kickstarter going to be used for?  None of the speakers I asked were paid to come, none had their airfare paid, and many came from the west coast.  So what is the money for?  If Photoville was happening before the Kickstarter campaign began, I’d like some transparency to know where the more than $30,000 is to be used.

And really, if you plan on hosting this again next year, why not in April or May, when the weather won’t be so oppressive?

Fence photos courtesy of Sari Goodfriend.  Panel photo courtesy of Julie Grahame. 

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Anonymous AC said...

Great post. Love hearing the dispatches from Photville.

June 26, 2012  

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