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. 😉