Last weekend I spent three days at the New York Photo Festival, roaming around DUMBO looking at photographs, bumping into photography people and attending lectures. I’d attended the year before but only for the afternoon. This time I was determined to immerse myself in the full experience.
Thursday, May 12th
On Thursday evening I arrived and picked up my ticket. I did’t think about it but I probably could have obtained a press pass. Next time I suppose. While there I was able to have a nice chat with Larissa Leclair and browse through a few books from the Indie Photobook Library. It’s an impressive collection and she’s only getting started.
The main event of the night was ‘Under the Bridge: Projections of a Revolution.’ Photographs from the recent revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were projected under the Manhattan Bridge Archway. The presentation was interesting, and at times intense with the Middle Eastern music thumping in the background.
However, it dragged on, and on, and on. It became too much. It would have been much better with a tighter edit and better sequencing. Near the end they did show some of Chris Hondros last photographs which was a nice collective moment. Afterward there was a cocktail party in one of the main Exhibition spots.
I spent some time browsing around with the highlight being the Japanese work from ONAEBA. While strolling around I bumped into Romke Hoogwaerts the brain behind MOSSLESS Magazine. We had a nice chat about photography and the internet. He’s full of ideas so I’m looking forward to what he does in the future.
A few moments later I introduced myself to David Walter Banks of LUCEO. I’m a great admirer of the work they’ve done so it was nice to chat with him for a few moments before he ran into a few more people. One of those people happened to be Tim Gruber, a fellow Minnesotan and someone I’d chatted with on Twitter a few times. It was good to spend sometime talking with him about his projects and transition back to Minnesota.
After the crowd started to thin out I got on the train and headed back to Greenpoint.
Friday, May 13th
I met up with my gallery hoping partner Gabriela Herman around noon. We headed straight for the main exhibitions, ‘Subjective/Objective’ curated by Elizabeth Biondi and ‘Hope: Between Dream and Reality’ by Enrico Bossan. The focus of the festival was on documentary photography, “how its practice has evolved in the digital era, and how its message is now more important than ever.”
Work from 22 photographs was represented and ranged from Alejandro Chaskielberg‘s large format work to Benjamin Lowy’s iPhone Hipstamatic photos. The subject matter ran the gamut too. As you can expect, some of it I liked, some of it didn’t resonate with me. It was nice to see Carolyn Drake’s work printed large and hanging on the wall and I thought A Yin’s ‘Mongolia Transformed’ series was interesting. It made Gabi and I ask a few questions.
As we walked out I commented that the main issue that I had was that most the work wasn’t really ‘wall’ work and probably resonated more in books. It’s tough when you see about 5-7 photographs from a complicated issue or subject and then move onto the next complicated issue. The NYTimes review commented about the lack of text adding context but I didn’t really find that to be the problem. The text was fine, I just felt that this type of photography was difficult to present in a few select photographs.
Also, it’s hard to have that many challenging issues thrown at you in one exhibition. It’s almost too much to process in such a short amount of time. But overall, I enjoyed looking at the work simply from an esthetic perspective. There were lots of different approaches which I thought was nice.
We hit up a few more of the side exhibitions, including Nevada Rose by Marc McAndrews at umbradge. The book documents the legal brothels in Nevada and was my favorite body of work from the whole weekend. The work was presented as a series of “small sized prints in a single line along the gallery walls” which worked really well. The book was great too. Overall it was a very well executed project and worth checking out if you’re in Dumbo.
We ended the day by meeting a contingency of photography people at a local bar for drinks and discussion.
Saturday, May 14th
This day was all about the lectures. First up was Photo 2.0 by Andy Adams of Flak Photo. The night before we’d chatted for a few minutes at the bar and started talking about the internet but the night was nearing an end so we didn’t solve any of the internets problems.
He put on a good presentation. For me, it was great to hear him talk about what he’s doing and gain a glimpse into his thought process. He’s most certainly the leading advocate for publishing and promoting photography on the internet that I’ve encountered. We were able to chat later in the afternoon about some of our ideas about where things maybe going. I promised him an article about it so I guess that means I have to finally write it. That’s another day though.
I hung around for the next presentation called ‘Photography and Change.’ It was about how photographers use their work to create real social change. One of the photographers on the panel was Peter van Agtmael. During the discussion he delivered what was for me the most moving moment of the entire festival. He started to talk about Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, whose deaths came only a few months after he was beaten up and had his cameras stolen in Egypt.
He admitted that for the first time he was really scared to go back into dangerous situations in order to make photographs. The conflict within him was palpable. The words “I don’t want to die” seemed to slip right out of his sub-conscious. For me, those few moments when he was questioning what he was going to do next were very powerful. He’s an incredible photographer. It was great to hear him speak about his work and offer some thoughts on documentary photography.
The final panel was ‘E-Cite: The Phenomenon of Online Blogs & Magazines.’ It was a panel discussion lead by James Estrin of the LENS Blog and included David Walter Banks of Luceo, Kira Pollack of Time, Holly Stuart Hughes of PDN, and Adriana Teresa Letorney of Visura Magazine. They only had an hour so it didn’t really dive too deeply into any issues but it was good to hear the intent behind each project, with the main theme seemingly to provide photographers with a direct platform where they could speak to their audience.
Holly Stuart Hughes also made some interesting points about how the PDN photo of the day sometimes brings in an audience outside the ‘photo ghetto’ which she thinks might provide new financial opportunities for photographers. For example, showing a publisher the web traffic and potential audience for a project.
And then I went home. It’s tough to really summarize these type of events when there’s so much to cover. But overall, it was a nice few days, especially since it provided me the opportunity to meet a few people that I’ve only known through the internet.