The Unseen Eye/L’Oeil Invisible – The Eye – has not been reporting on the photography scene for L’Oeil de la Photographie for awhile but is pleased to offer this fresh report on his recent visit to FORMAT19 in Derby, UK.
The Eye enjoys this trip from the US because FORMAT19 is a world class festival. Also the Eye’s ancestral roots are in Derbyshire. Perhaps some distant cousin will present him or herself.
It does rain, and it can be very cold, but the lousy weather was at odds with the very full pleasures of FORMAT19.
One of the things that this particular Format did very well was to showcase photographers that may not have extensive exhibition history. The Eye was impressed that most of the exhibitors were drawn from an enormous Open Call. At FORMAT19 artists not only have shows and space in the catalogue but there is substantial related press (The Royal Photographic Society Magazine, in particular) as well as inclusion in the international portfolio reviews. This gave visitors repeated opportunities to encounter new work.
The festival title was “Forever//Now”. Story telling was at the heart of things and the various curators like Louise Fedotov-Clements, founder and Artistic Director of the FORMAT biennial, Tim Clark of 1000 Words, and Peter Bonnell, QUAD Senior Curator, to name a few did a swell job.
The Eye’s Diary
Getting Ready – Wednesday 13 March 2019
The festival opened officially on Thursday, 14 March, but The Eye spent a chilly and wet Wednesday in the nearby village of Crich at the National Tramway Museum to check on “Quinn”, a mixed media installation of work by the very gifted artist Lottie Davies.
The Eye was the curator of record and Ms. Davies was the most estimable, capable, collaborative and talented artist with whom he has had the enormous pleasure to work. The Eye had lobbied aggressively to have Davies and “Quinn” included in this edition of FORMAT19. The venue was awkward at best, because Davies’ landscapes cry out for vast exhibition space. The Eye posited the notion that the artist’s protagonist Quinn, after wandering the footpaths of western England would retire to a modest room in a boarding house where Davies would create the space in which Quinn imagined and visualized his journeys.
Thank you to Lottie D and Peter Bonnell’s very hard work in resolving the unanticipated technical difficulties. The staff at the Tram museum may never before have found evidence of an artist and curator smoking vintage cigarettes and leaving the ashes in a period ashtray to give the room a “smoked in” feel. The room had many things to discover, including Quinn’s movingly trenchant journal. Davies’ has constructed a many layered character.
It is the artist and curator’s hope that Quinn will surface again in another – warmer and dryer – environment – perhaps London!
Day One – Thursday 14 March 2019
Bridget Coaker and Michael Walter of Troika Press manage the publicity for FORMAT19 and invited the Eye on the press tour before the opening festivities that evening. This was a chance to see a lot of the work along with some background information. In the spirit of the Rencontres in Arles, there are a number of unexpected and diverse venues scattered around Derby but – with the exception of Crich – never that far away.
The Eye tried his best to take it all in.
Sixteen is a very good looking, insightful and effective collaborative project engineered by Craig Easton and Anne Braybon combining photographic and video portraiture and text. All of this was inspired by 16 year olds being able to vote in a Scottish initiative. Photographers commissioned for Sixteen included Linda Brownlee, Lottie Davies (again!), Craig Easton, Jillian Edelstein, Stuart Freedman, Sophie Gerrard, Kalpesh Lathigra, Roy Mehta, Christopher Nunn, Kate Peters, Michelle Sank, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Simon Roberts and David Copeland.
The Eye thought that the installation was a bit out of the way on the upper floor of the Derby Market Hall, but it had immediacy and assuredly will find an audience. The whole show is designed to travel. It was thoughtful and perceptive, with the photographers managing some genuine engagement with their subjects.
We moved on to a new venue, The Tramshed, which has been refitted as an exhibition space having had a number of iterations including … tramshed. It is nicely tucked away in an enclosed courtyard near the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. The main attraction here was a commission from Brian Griffin, “Tram Man” which the Eye kept calling “Trans-man”. Griffin was dealing with trams and the Church. The Queen should go into her box of medals and honor this wonderful man: photographer, enthusiast, raconteur and FORMAT founding patron. Griffin found peculiar delight in discovering that like him, the Eye was also a Caesarian birth.
I liked Caroline Furneaux’s self explanatory “The Mothers I Might have had” with Solar Colour Viewers holding photographs her father made in the 1960’s. I was also struck by Jamie E. Murray’s prison work in “Folly” and American Matthew Arnold’s barren and arid, almost monochromatic “Topography Is Fate—North African Battlefields of World War II”.
Then we were off to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery for “White Heat of British Industry, 1950s-60s: Photographs by Maurice Broomfield’ which was one of the photographic highlights of the year for the Eye. Derby was the focal point of the Industrial Revolution, and this presentation was particularly appropriate because Broomfield grew up here. Starting as a lathe operator at the Rolls Royce factory in Derby, he went to the Derby Art College in the evenings and then worked in advertising and photography, becoming Britain’s premier industrial photographer. Part of Broomfield’s visual education and inspiration came from the notable paintings of Joseph Wright “Of Derby”. The “White Heat” of the title comes from Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s description of British technology in the early 1960’s “a time of such rapid scientific change that our children are accepting as part of their everyday life things which would have been dismissed as science fiction a few years ago”.
Continuing on the Eye toured installations at Deda Hall and on to The University of Derby, memorable for Louis Quail’s “Big Brother” with an excellent book from Dewi Lewis and Maki Hayashida’s haunting “Almost Transparent Island”.
Anchoring all of this was Danielle Shambley’s large sculptural cascading installation Eructate: The 90th Year, comprised of personal photographs from the family albums of people of Derby from 1928 to the present day. It seemed a mad homage to designer and vernacular photo specialist Erik Kessells.
More. On by taxi to the Eagle Market Hall where there were some Fringe Shows. The Eye met the dynamic Gemma Marmalade, who was one of the Fringe and Conference organizers. The Eye met some imaginative younger artists like Tristan Poyser with his “The Invisible In-Between” and was pleased to learn that we would be able to talk further during The Portfolio Reviews on Saturday. This was the case with a number of other artists.
This still left time for the opening festivities in the central QUAD arts space. It was too crowded to reasonably take in the central show “Mutable/Multible” with the audio from Edgar Martin’s The Life and Death of Schrödinger’s Cat surreally distracting from the speakers. Cat has images of scientific illustration and documentation, in the spirit of Evidence, the classic 1977 photo book by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel that was the centerpiece of FORMAT15. The video is part of the artist’s “What Photography has in Common with an Empty Vase”. The room was packed, and The Eye finally managed to see this show in its entirety on Monday morning.
The project reminded the Eye of David Fathi’s work.
“Mutable/Multiple” was – ultimately – a likable and satisfying survey of six contemporary artists:Anne Golaz’s “Corbeau Vol 2: Finir comme prévu ( to end as expected)”, Edgar Martins (above), Stefanie Moshammer’s “I Can Be Her”, Max Pinckers’s “Margins of Excess”, Virginie Rebetez’s “Out of the Blue” and Amani Willett’s “The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer”, as the catalogue indicates, “all of whom make use of the narrative potential of photography to engage with their subjects, yet without adopting straightforward strategies”.
During the opening remarks, the Eye did see the show in Gallery Two, with Instagram star Kensuke Koike’s “Happy Ending”, debuting full size renderings of his beguiling and table top cut out collages. The imagery was drawn from vintage works in the Derby-based W.W. Winter studio archive.
This was also to be Elvis night, but the Eye begged off and managed to steal away from the festivities and make his way to well-deserved sleep.
Day Two – Friday 15 March 2019
Day Two was highlighted by a conference organized by Philip Harris and the afore-mentioned Ms. Marmalade, a day of academic presentations at the University of Derby. The Eye was the concluding plenary speaker and given the “oh don’t worry about it” direction from co-organizer Harris but nonetheless felt obliged to sit in on as much as he could.
The best of these was Martin Barnes’ presentation about Maurice Broomfield whose “White Heat” was on view at the Derby Museum of Art, the discovery of the festival, a remarkable body of industrial photography from the 1950’s and ’60’s, staged, dramatically lit with deep dark contrasty prints, along with some more recently printed color work. Barnes’ presentation was clear and affectionate and included part of an oral history that he had engineered before the photographer’s death.
Most of the presentations were read by the presenters and suffered from that resolute intention to drain the subject matter of any life. Sam Vale’s “Latent: The Practice of Uncovering a Hidden Homosexual History within the South East Archive of Seaside Photography” was obsessive and droll.
Notable exceptions were Paul Lowe’s “Traces of Traces: Time, Space, Objects and the ForensicTruth in Photography” which was lively and personal as was Craig Easton and Anne Braybon’s “Tethered in Time: how SIXTEEN interacts with FORVER/NOW”.
Midway Thierry Geoffroy did an intervention, a performance piece that involved destroying a sign that read “It’s Too Late”. This was followed by an invitation for the audience to do a “Critical Slow Dance” while considering how to take action. Mmmf. The Eye missed the morning “Critical Run” with a similar agenda.
However there was a presentation shortly thereafter by Derby professor and all around energizer Gemma Marmalade who read a paper about her “Seed Generation” project which purports to demonstrate that lesbians can grow remarkably large vegetables than the rest of the population. There is a delicious line in the “Green Fingered” video on her web site about how lesbians can entertain more friends because their tomatoes and hence their salads are bigger. In the Eagle Market the Eye had seen her portfolio of seemingly archival portraits of these lady gardeners. In the Q&A session, a female audience member theatrically accused Marmalade of perpetuating a hoax. After a shoving match, the woman was ultimately escorted from the auditorium by a policeman.
In retrospect this was the driest of performance pieces and Marmalade carried it off remarkably. Houston FOTOFEST’s Steven Evans and the Eye took in the whole thing and thought it odder than odd, but pretty funny.
Lady Marmalade is the spiritual love child of Joan Fontcuberta, and The Eye is still thinking about it.
The plenary wrap up went fine with the Eye asking for testimonials about the various presentations.
Good Indian food with Ute Noll, Fiona Rogers and Monica Allende who led FORMAT17 while Louise F-C was on maternity leave. Snuck by Bar-One where there was some sort of after party.
Day Three – Saturday 15 March 2019
This was Portfolio Review day in the Derby library organized again by the very capable Sebah Chaudry. The Library was also the site for the Book Fair which was first rate with lots of fresh titles. It had been organized by Sebastian Arthur Hau who is the Art director at PolyCopies during Paris Photo. The Eye bought some memorable knock off ‘zines from Matt Martin of The Photocopy Club and had a lively conversation. Photo-book fairs like this one consistently have the most optimistic and upbeat atmosphere.
Portfolio Review was a long, very full day which concluded with a Portfolio Walk where all the artists could show their work laid out on tables. As Jean-Jacques Naudet, the publisher of L’Oeil insists, “you must look at everything”. The Eye tries.
This was a day for advising, being supportive, and helping artists build their networks. Emily Clarke, Lydia Goldblatt, Tristan Poyser (mentioned above), Aristotle Roufanis, and Alastair Philip Wiper were memorable. Sophie Ingleby had portraits of barely viable embryos. The Eye liked that.
Dinner at The Bear. Some readers here will appreciate that.
Day Four – Sunday, 16 March 2019
This was the day of days for the Eye’s debut as a FORMAT19 curator with Lottie Davies’ “Quinn”. On the coach ride to the CrichTramway Village, Brian Griffin entertained an international set of guests with his unique running commentary. People respectfully went through the “Quinn” installation – one by one as requested – free to explore the room, to lie on the bed, to read the journal, to go through Quinn’s suitcase and try to appreciate his state of mind surrounded by the images of his walking the countryside. It all seemed memorable and successful.
Davies includes this bit by Søren Kierkegaard in her artist statement “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all…. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”
At one point Davies and Griffin and the Eye conducted a jolly, rambling, and slightly mad conversation. People also wandered the byways, road on the trams in The Crich Tramway Village, had tea or drinks and tried to stay warm and dry.
It was a long day and lovely way to close to another formidable FORMAT Festival. Thank you and brava to Louise Clements-Fedotov and her excellent crew. Well done. See you at FORMAT21.
The Eye is W.M. Hunt, based in New York, an original supporter of and contributor to L’Oeil.