The New York Festival wrapped up on Sunday and there has been mixed feedback.
The New Yorker had a nice write up online of Fred Ritchin’s show, which I was very happy to be a part of. I thought Fred did an amazing job of curating a show that didn’t just present work but strengthened each body of work through how they played off one another. Seeing my own webcam images displayed next to Michael Wolf’s Google Street View series made me look at my work differently. Marc Garanger’s portraits of Algerian women in the early 1960’s who were forced to remove their veils by the French Army for identity card photos were very moving. Ritchin, quoted by the NY Times, explained “This work is very important because of the visual rape of the women who were forced to appear uncovered…You feel a distress, a defiance, an anger, a vulnerability because they’re not used to showing their face outside their immediate family.”
Vanity Fair had a positive write up of this year’s festival which has only been going on for three years:
…the guest-curated exhibitions at the first two iterations were largely of dubious quality and sloppy conception, marked by a frustrating randomness and a cast-off air. But as Wednesday night’s debut revealed, this year the highlights outweigh the lows, thanks to the incisive visions of four insightful curators: Vince Aletti, Erik Kessels, Fred Ritchin, and musician Lou Reed.
Erik Kessels’ “Use Me, Abuse Me” seemed to be the most controversial show at the festival. The work ranged from a 10-foot tall photo sculpture to home-made pottery decorated with humorous found images. I didn’t understand all of the work and I’m totally okay with that. What I appreciated was seeing other artists working with the still image in ways I hadn’t considered. It was also nice to see some humour.
PDN’s Holly Hughes notes:
The festival’s four main galleries – called “pavilions” – feature so much strong work and provocative imagery that it seems quibbling to note that some of the shows in which these images appear lack coherent themes…In the festival’s third year, it may be time to give up trying to glean any significance in the juxtaposition of the images. Maybe the best way to approach the festival is just to poke around and see what’s cool.
Over at A Photo Editor, most of the comments are negative: “…this year seemed overly conceptual, gimmicky even, with a lack of true beauty…”. “Academic photography has nothing to do with making good pictures.”
On her blog, Stella Kramer (a former editor at magazines like Sports Illustrated and People) writes:
I’ve always wondered why the festival seems so out of touch with the photo community that I exist in. I would love more photographers of all genres to have the chance to show their work, leaving some of the high brow academic art photography in the background…I always come looking for surprises and leave feeling strangely unmoved.
I happen to think there was a wide-range of photography represented and far more surprises than one would find in most publications. There are photo festivals that focus on much more traditional documentary work but that’s not what the New York Photo Festival is trying to do.
I do agree with Stella that outside projections would be great but from what I understand, doing things outside in public spaces in NYC requires more permits and money. I am surprised that the city isn’t more supportive of the festival – Rob Hornstra had a few posters wheat pasted on a construction scaffold and the city made him take those down. It would be great to have a nice outdoor bar/cafe at the end of Main Street or in the Tobacco Warehouse. I was very disappointed in the Lou Reed exhibit and while I like the work that Vince Aletti curated, I felt it wasn’t presented well (I wonder if it was Vince’s choice or a matter of $$$).
For me, this year’s highlights were higher than in past years and the low points were still pretty low. I wish there was more of an integration between Dumbo and the festival. It would be great if there was work on display in public spaces.
So, what do people want? Yeah, cheaper tickets and portfolio reviews and no tech problems. Obviously, things need to run smoother…The whole festival experience should be more welcoming…Press previews should start on time…Festival catalogues should be available from the start. But what about some suggestions that the organizers might not have thought of? Four years ago, there was no NY Photo Festival and while the current festival still needs work, I had a blast wandering around Dumbo, bumping into friends, seeing work I was unfamiliar with. Rencontres D’Arles has been around since 1970. Houston FotoFest started in 1986. This year is the 23rd year of Visa Pour l’Image. I wonder what the NY Photo Festival will be like 20 years from now. Some thoughtful, constructive feedback might help make next year’s festival better.