Monday, May 19, 2008

New York Photo Festival Recap

I had the chance to attend the New York Photo Festival this weekend in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The festival, touted as "the future of contemporary photography", brought together an international cast of photographers with projects ranging across the boundaries of the medium. Broken up into four main curated exhibitions by Martin Parr, Lesley Martin, Tim Barber and Kathy Ryan, the photography on view was largely grouped into typologies based on the interests of their curators. Martin Parr's exhibit, ironically called New Typologies, brought together work from contemporary explorers of the typology: WassinkLundgren, Donovan Wylie, Jeffrey Milstein, Jan Banning, Sarah Pickering, Ananké Asseff, Michel Campeau, and Jan Kempenaers.

Working typologically has become an ingrained photographic tradition ever since the Becher's legitimized the method almost 50 years ago, not to mention August Sander before them. It can be a wonderfully descriptive and revelatory way to illuminate subject matter, however, the photographers in the New Typologies show, with a few exceptions, brought little that felt refreshing and new. Michel Campeau's Darkroom series was one of these exceptions while WassinkLundgren's Empty Bottles series might be the other. Campeau's approach is interesting in that he does not execute every photograph in a rigid, uniform way. The importance of his study is derived from a specific place, not necessarily from his homogeneous execution in photographing the contents of that space. WassinkLundgren's project comprising photographs of people picking up deliberate placed empty bottles in urban environments is a more interesting concept than it is a visually stimulating body of work. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the presentation.

The Lesley Martin curated exhibit The Ubiquitous Image was the most conceptually-driven show at the festival. Comprised of works by Joachim Schmid, Claudia Angelmaier, Marco Breuer, Penelope Umbrico, Harrell Fletcher, Natalie Czech, Curtis Mann, Robert Bowen, Peter Piller, and Useful Photography, the artists in this exhibit all commonly shared tendencies to push and expand the boundaries of photographic representation. Heavily rooted in Post-Modern practice, many of these artists employed appropriation, manipulation, rephotography and repetition of imagery. Harrell Fletcher's project of appropriating photographs from strangers wallets, scanning them, printing them out at a much larger size, framing them and hanging them on the wall, calls into question issues of artistic authorship and the authenticity of the art object. In this way, the questioning of the unique role, or vision, of the artist as creator brought a nice cohesion to Martin's exhibit.

Various Photographs curated by Tim Barber, the former photo editor for Vice magazine, brought together over 300 images from both well established and lesser known photographers. Set up in long, often visually overwhelming rows of small framed photographs, Various Photographs was an exploration of the banal, everyday moments and spaces that photography has the power transcend. Although there were some absolutely wonderful images, their impact was often lessened by their proximity and relationship to less inspired photographs. Above all, Barber's exhibit is evidence that the stylistic preference for "snapshots" is alive and well.

Finally, Kathy Ryan's curatorial effort Chisel was the most eclectic offering at the festival. Bringing together the work of Roger Ballen, Raphaël Dallaporta, Julian Faulhaber, Andreas Gefeller, Stephen Gill, Alejandra Laviada, Simon Norfolk, Horacio Salinas, Lars Tunbjörk and Katherine Wolkoff, Chisel was a nice amalgam conceptual and traditional work. I frankly don't understand where the name Chisel is derived from, however, the work was quite thought-provoking. Alejandra Laviada's work was quite beautiful. I've been familiar with her photographs for a while now, but seeing her work in person gave the work a different depth. The intersection between photography and sculpture in Laviada's work is self-referential without being pretentious, personal yet universal. I also quite enjoyed Andreas Gefeller's aerial observations and Roger Ballen's surrealist portraits and still lives.

If this year's offering is any indication, the New York Photo Festival promises to be an exciting forum for "the future of contemporary photography."

From Top To Bottom:

WassinkLundgren, from the series Empty Bottles

Michel Campeau, from the series Darkroom

Claudia Claudia Angelmaier, Kopf eines Rehbocks, 2004

Joachim Schmid

Catherine Lutes

Julian Faulhaber

All Image © The Artists