Monday, 14 March 2011

Format Festival - Derby

On Saturday, I spent the day in Derby, attending the Format Foto Festival with a group of fellow OCA students and tutors.  It proved to be a great opportunity to spend time with the group, discussing photographs and photography with like-minded people.  It was hard work, but worthwhile, if only for the stimulus that came from serious conversation with other members of the party.

Full marks to Derby for establishing and building such a marvellous Foto Festival - it seemed well-organised, well-laid-out, well-curated, and all for free (including lunch from the OCA - 'many thanks').

Titled 'Right Here, Right Now', the theme this year is street photography, which is, of course, highly relevant for me at the stage I'm at with People and Place.  Plus, there seems to be a revival of this genre, with the 'Street Photography Now; project, the 'In-Public' Group, and some highly active Flickr groups devoted to 'street'.

I was already familiar with many, perhaps most, of the photographers whose work was on show, and even with a lot of the images.  So, when tutor CliveW asked me mid-afternoon if I'd seen anything in particular that inspired me, my hesitation before answering probably said it all - plenty to inform, but perhaps nothing in particular to inspire.  Some things that I would note, in no particular order:
  • George Georgiou - having enjoyed his work in both Hotshoe and BJP in the last few months, it was good to see the 'genuine article'.  His work is here and I particularly like the tones and colours of his 'landscapes' of the East/West 'frontier' towns.  I was already aware that he often uses quite an early Sony digital camera, because it has a large sensor, giving the images something of the full-format/view camera feel; also that he deliberately likes to shoot on dull days - something that I found myself doing on the Landscape course - for the soft even light and the avoidance of highly saturated skies.  In the context of his camera choice, it was worth noting that his prints were on the whole larger than the others in the exhibitions.
  • Raoul Gatepin was a new name to me (see here) - empty, soulless urban landscapes, responding to the financial crisis of 2008 (the project is called Piramid), and evoking that mood very well, in my opinion.  I particularly recall the image of tracks leading off a road (the system running off course); the containers locked behind wire fencing, all with the word 'Time' on the side; and the beautiful colours of a sunlit scene that wasn't real because it was shot as an out-of-focus reflection in a drab, dirty window pane.
  • The work of Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman in their 'Telepathic Witness' project here was interesting - images created at the site of Tweet messages, which they have tracked via GPS, captioned with the original Tweet.  It's an original idea, for a start, and they have managed to juxtapose text/image in a manner that raises questions and provokes thought e.g. the model of Concorde and a statuette on a domestic window-sill; the surveillance cameras, caged and fixed to an anonymous grey wall.  OCA tutor, Jose, prompted discussion on why the images were laid out in the manner/order that they were - a closely aligned grid of nine pictures.  We never really resolved the ordering, though it clearly couldn't have been random, but it did occur to me afterwards that the 'grid' resembled a bank of surveillance screens - perhaps suggesting that we are spying/prying on the purveyor of the 'private' Tweet - but that nothing is private in todays world.
Which brings me to one thing that I have brought away from Format, in particular, the presentation of street images as prints, in an exhibition.  I feel inspired to print my own street images, and in particular to present my Assignment 2 images as prints.  The style, in general, was to print on board/metal (won't be doing that!), unframed, and bled to (even wrapped around) the edge (might try that).  It's hardly a new idea to recognise that photographic images work most effectively in a real, tangible form as opposed to digital/web images, but looking at exhibitions always reaffirms it for me - and Format was no exception.

I must just add that I didn't feel a very positive response to the work of Bruce Gilden (though I doubt he will be too concerned with what I think!).  I've seen it in books, of course, and even commented on it earlier in my blog - in relation to my concerns about the 'hip shot' - but I have to say that I found his 'flash' portraits less that inspiring.  I couldn't see that he had captured anything of his subjects beyond their (understandable) surpise at being confonted by him, his camera, and a very bright flash.  Discussing that feeling with one of the tutors, he commented, and I understand and agree, that there is much more of the photographer than the subject in those images.

And finally, whilst repeating how stimulating it is to meet and talk with others in this type of event, I will have to go back to Format again before it finishes, if possible.  One spends so much time discussing that one doesn't see everything - so I need to fill in some gaps.


  1. It was good to meet you at last Stan, though sadly we didn't get much time for discussion - it was a busy day.

    I enjoyed the Twitter pics also - very interesting thinking. I hope you enjoy your return visit.

  2. Stan, good to see you again (and the others, of course).

    Re the tweet surveillance, I believe this is more significant because a number of people will be unaware that when they tweet via their mobile phones, the phone is doing the geo-tagging. It's the same with uploading photo's form the phone to Facebook and Flickr, etc. So yes, there's surveillance and many people (not all) will be unaware that they are subjected to this. Is it worse than if they were aware? I'm not sure, but there's an interesting piece on the panopticon that raises all sorts of questions.

    See you in Bradford.

  3. Eileen - yes, sorry that we didn't get chance for a proper conversation - another time, hopefully.
    Rob - I wondered how they had been able to track the locations. What is the panopticon?
    By the way, Georgiou uses a Sony DSC-R1 - big sensor and a swivel screen (so that people aren't sure whether or not he is photographing them).

  4. About presentation, this is what I mean by 'hints and glimpses', with full bleed in a gallery situation the wall becomes the border but in a portfolio the image loses its boundaries and gets tangled up with the 'real world'; comment was made about it at the last assessment.

    Personally I would still go for generous white borders such that when you pick it up from the corner one's thumb doesn't break into the image area.

  5. Thanks, Clive, sound advice (again!).

  6. There is an essay by Foucault about the panopticon - it's all about surveillance and observation and how people react differently if they know they're being watched or not.

    The panopticon basically was devised to control inmates behaviour - they could be watched all the time, but they didn't know whether it was actually happening, so they'd be good just in case.

    CCTV nation indeed.

    (UVC strikes again...)

  7. OK I'm glad we got that sorted.' }

    In fragmentary conversations with students I'm always concerned that the wrong end of the stick will be gotten and students will act on what I've said when they've only got half the story and then be surprised and disappointed with the result of following what they think I've said.

    As you've seen at Format full bleed is a contemporary (read that as fashionable hahaha) way of displaying images on a gallery wall but a portfolio that you don't have control of, such as during assessment, has different requirements.

    Full bleed can work if you have a portfolio box and you are carefully shifting the images in a sequence from one half to the other, as you're showing it, but in the assessment situation they can get dealt out like cards, all criss crossing one another and the end result looks like a jumble sale!

  8. Interesting comments on printing. I am looking right now at my A3+ paper, bought following an earlier chat with Clive about valuing work, and the difference between a tangible print and online work. I print for assignment and assessment in any event, but putting together a portfolio of favourite images on very expensive A3+ paper is quite a different level of commitment.

  9. I've been involved in various conversations about prints with various people about prints. I say various because I can't remember whose said what to whom and when. Hahaha.

    But as well as earlier discussions about turning an image from electronic ephemera into a 'valuable' object I also did a piece of audio at the assessment that may turn into a video on We Are OCA on the duality of the photograph as image and the photograph as object. Pre digital selected images were always represented as an object that existed in its own right. It seems to me that is the culmination of the process, as long as it remains as only a file then it's missing an essential quality that completes it as an object of power and contemplation brought into existence.