As part of my A2 tutorial, my tutor suggested that I should try to get to the Format Festival, particularly as two of the photographers whose work interests me are showing there, Kensuke Koike and Alexandra Lethbridge. So on Saturday, I hopped on the train and went to Derby for the day. The festival is relatively compact, with most venues being in walking distance of one another, but I was clearly not going to be able to visit them all, so I decided to concentrate on six locations, which I will go through in turn here. I saw a huge number of images, and so will concentrate mainly on the ones that drew my attention.
First up was The Quad, which had several rooms and corridors dedicated to exhibitions. It would take forever to describe them all so here are a few highlights.
Kensuke Koike – well, what can you say about his work? His speciality is cutting archival images to make new comments about this original and here, he has bigged up the idea. In an installation of about nine pieces, each image was cut and then mounted on a piece of similarly cut and hinged metal, in which is was clearly possible to see that it could be folded back flat. It was a triumph of the use of negative space, and the subject matter was images taken from Derby’s historic archive. I loved it.
Steven Barritt’s Of Swallows and Ravens considered our notions of how the more esoteric science such as quantum mechanics and astronomy relate to our perceived reality. The work on show for this was very disparate and each piece merited some time to consider what point was being made. Interesting and thought provoking.
Lisa Ambrossio’s The Rage of Devotion was an eclectic mix of old family photos and peculiar mental performances over the period of time when she left home very young and had to start making her own way in the world. Clearly, it was not a very happy experience, but it was a startlingly fresh insight into the mind of someone battling with loneliness and mental health issues at a young age.
Seunggu Kim’s Better Days was visually very appealing with it’s pink and green palette and its stories of Korean people en masse trying to relax on mini-breaks.
Amani Willett’s The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer was a historical mystery and an attempt to understand her father’s need for solitude by following in the footsteps of Joseph Plummer, an 18th century hermit who became a legend in his own lifetime. It looked at themes of escape, peace and geography all at once, and really requires more time than I had to delve into.
I then went to Derby Museum & Art Gallery to see the retrospective of Maurice Broomfield’s White Heat of British Industry, 1950s – 60s. This was a substantial exhibition by a photographer whom I was not familiar with. I would have liked to be able to spend more time there, as the images were fascinating – beautifully lit and composed prints of British industrial workers doing their jobs, and made at a time when the role of the manual worker was very much in the public conscience. There was something almost romantic about them, and more than a hint of Soviet photographic influence. Unfortunately, I was short of time and the subject and presentation were not relevant to my current work, so I had to move on.
St Westburgh’s Church – This somewhat bizarre and freezing venue was the location for the Kassel Dummy Photobook Award. I spent a long time there looking at different book formats. There were numerous examples of books with inserts, different page sizes and varying papers, (including rubber and fabric covers) as well as more traditional styles. The second prize winner, Watertanks in Mathare Slum by Filippo Romano was one that caught my eye. It was made up as a lined jotter with handwritten notes, although the original jotter has been printed on a much stronger plasticised paper which gives it an odd, texture – no longer the original but something else. I also enjoyed Sensor, by Holger Krischke, Thomas Haubner and students of University of Fine Arts Münster, which was a multisensory scrapbook with bits of sandpaper, bubblewrap etc. alongside the images. Plenty of food for thought here.
The Smallprint Company exhibit was in a lovely old-fashioned print studio and consisted of a mere thirteen small images spread about the walls alongside all the usual paraphernalia of a working studio. Unfortunately, there was a workshop going on and I felt a bit inhibited about really examining the work, which was a shame as it was fascinating. Five photographers produced collaged under the title of The Office for Revised Futures. I particularly liked Fernando Martin Godoy‘s landscapes with rectangles seamlessly inserted, and Hannah Hughes Flatland collages, which were tiny and mysterious. I would like to delve into her work in more detail in another post.
Pickford’s House – the two exhibitions here were The Blue Skies Project by Anton Kusters and Ruben Samama and Radical Visions: Camerawork Revisited. The first of these was a series of 1078 Polaroid images of the sky at each of the locations of Nazi concentration camps. The sheer number of images was mindblowing, and it was an object lesson in how one doesn’t need to address a subject head on to make one’s point. I took a quick look around the Cameraworks exhibit, which was obviously highly political, and not particularly relevant to my current studies, but it was interesting to see what was going on in my teenage years, news of which largely passed me by at the time.
The unexpected highlight of this venue was a room full of toy theatres. I have been considering using the ideas of tunnel books and miniature theatres in some work for a while, and so this was fascinating. I came away buzzing with ideas about what I could do using current images as the base.
The Eagle Market – last stop of the day, and I was feeling a bit footsore and weary by now. The layout of the work did not help and I needed a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate cake to fortify myself beforehand. The exhibits were spread out over the large covered market in unused stall, and were very poorly signposted, so one had to walk up and down all the aisles to find everything. The Alexandra Lethbridge exhibit – The Path of an Honest Man was here. It is not my favourite Lethbridge series (that honour going to Other Ways of Knowing) but I was interested in how she used a variety of very different shapes, layers and subjects to consider the body language of lying. It was all monochrome and rather austere.
The other highlights for me were a very large piece Indecisive, by Dominic Chapman, which used Photoshop layers to very good effect (see image 1 below), a set of beautiful collages of Punjabi families overlaid with regional print patterns by Yasmin Nilupa(Image 2 below) and a series called An Englishman’s Search for the Irish Border by Tristan Poyser, which spawned a subsequent public participation project on how people viewed the border, by tearing images in half and writing a sentence to describe their feelings about Brexit.
Overall, a good day out, and I’m surprised I managed to get so much into a single day.