Posts Tagged format festival
The Saturday Sessions of NPS 3 were too much to squeeze in to one blog post, without doing a real disservice to all the wonderful speakers so, here it comes….Part II.
When I was invited to speak at Format Festival, I had wanted to make it clear that as big a fan of Social Media as I am, simply using it because it is popular is pointless. The faddish nature of wanting to use “the latest web platform” often overtakes clear thinking about how to use it effectively. What excited me about he Street Photography Now Project was precisely the fact that it couldn’t be duplicated without Social Media tools without incurring a massive cost. We have 52 photographers offering feedback over the course of a year, and participants from every continent. And the whole thing is free for people participating. That’s pretty damn special, if I may say so. It’s what had me say “I’m in” when it came to running it for a year.
I wanted to find other web-and-photo projects with a similar thought behind them. I’d say web-based, but these projects rarely are; they’re web-facilitated, if anything. And I found an amazing one (which we highlighted in our presentation) in The 4am Project. I’d googled and found it, and I’ve been telling everyone about it ever since. So, imagine my delight to walk into a small lecture space, only to have Mike England kindly introduce me to Karen Strunks, the amazing lady behind the 4am Project. I had no idea who had set this project up, and even less idea that it had come from just down the road in Birmingham (okay, motorway, let’s not quibble though…).
Her 15-minute talk covered the growth of her project, from its organic beginnings with her happening to be out late one night and finding the change in public space photographically and emotionally intriguing, to going out with her camera and photographing in the small hours, uploading the images and receiving other peoples’ late night images in response, to setting up the website and organising 4am Events for people across the globe to participate in.
In a time where arts organisations are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate their value to the wider community in their work, people like Karen really ought to be applauded for organising a novel idea, executing it in a relatively low-cost manner (using Twitter and Facebook as key advertising tools), and genuinely engaging with the power of todays communications devices to create a project that fosters a sense of community without borders.
I was amazed to learn that the 4am Events that had already occurred included people who went out on prearranged photo-walks without even taking a camera, just to be part of it. Those who go out alone do so knowing there are other people out there doing the same thing at the same time. And Karen has taken it to a new level in her home town of Birmingham by (somehow – and I want your ninja secrets here) getting permission to building and sites normally closed at this hour – Birmingham New Street station was opened, as was the Library, and the New Art Gallery. At 4am. For people to take photographs. Given the popularity of complaints that photographers are being prevented from photographing in public places (complaints that are, at times, extremely valid), this project deserves to be known by every person who ever picks up a camera and photographs in a public place.
At this point, hunger pangs really did overtake me, and I had to duck out for food. But the Bluecoat did an admirable job with a barbecue (inside, due to the rain), and people got to chatting away, catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones.
Photographer, Edmund Clark enjoying a bottle of wine with Karen Newman and Adam Lee at The Bluecoat.
This was followed by casual drinks at local cocktail bar par excellence, Santa Chupitos. TNT was the popular choice, and it proved a nice way to wind down from a photography-packed day.
Opening week was, quite simply, amazing. I have to hand it to the guys at Format, they really put together an excellent festival – the theme is Street Photography, with the caption “Right Here, Right Now”, and the events included a week-long Magnum workshop taught by Bruce Gilden, Richard Kalvar, and Chris Steele-Perkins. Those guys also gave talks during the first couple of days, as did Format Patron for this year, Joel Meyerowitz, while Brian Griffin who is the Annual Patron of Format also did a lighting workshop.
Surrounding this, Format also organised some heavy-duty portfolio reviews with a wide range of people working in photography, a launch party and post-Conference dinner, and other assorted events. So, there was hardly time to breath. Yet, the whole Format crew handled it like it was a simple operation – very professional, very accommodating, and very relaxed. And Quad’s coffee area quickly became the hub for informal meetings, dinner arrangements, spontaneous portfolio reviews and much more.
And it was this atmosphere that has been the biggest talking point for Format this year. While I am a devotee to the kind of work on display, many who attended the festival pursued forms of photography that fell outside the remit of this year’s festival. Yet everyone had a good time, was made to feel welcome, and enjoyed the communal atmosphere of the festival. I’m used to hearing people speak about festival and say, “there were a few works I liked, yeah” but with Format, the overwhelming response was “it was a great event”. Format was, in that sense, a true festival; a happening and gathering of minds, people sharing their passion and vibing off each other’s enthusiasm. Other photography festivals will have their work cut out to replicate the inscrutable and high quality of atmosphere that the guys at Format worked so hard to successfully achieve. And I’m eager to return to Derby for the next Festival, to see if they can top this year’s.
I was particularly taken by speaking to Joel Meyerowitz who pulled me to one side during the post-Conference dinner to tell me he had enjoyed my talk, mostly for my evident passion for photography. A strange situation indeed, as the conversation was one I had imagined happening, only with him saying all of my lines, but we both stood there just vibing off each other’s energy for this work and, had it not been so dark, I would have gone out immediately afterwards to shoot (as it turned out, a few of us did go out drinking later and photographed Derby’s night life).
I returned on Friday for a week’s work with a local photographer, but also to catch the final events. Tom Wood gave a highly engaging talk about his work (and big kudos to Format for getting him to speak, as he is fairly reclusive), and yesterday we saw the premieres of films on street photography by in-Public and also by Cheryl Dunn.
While much quieter than the opening few days, the communal vibe of Format has lasted until the end, and we once again began to congregate informally in Quad’s coffee area, catching up and chatting before arranging our dinner plans. In some ways, this suited me better, as it provided more time to have in depth talks and I have learned tons from the generosity of the photographers, curators, and other photography-folk I met and who gave me sage advice about my future plans. Brian Griffin in particular was kind enough to spend one morning giving me a half-hour appraisal of whether it is better to do an MA in photography or work up by assisting photographers. I am at a cross-roads with my own work and need to plan for the future, and being at Format Festival really helped me get the clarity I needed on where to go next with everything.
And it didn’t hurt that the exhibitions on show featured some seriously top quality work.