These texts are listed by chronological order.

AIPAD 2005

© Bruno Chalifour.

As photographic fairs, organized by or for photo dealers and their potential customers, prosper around the US and in Europe, the oldest of them all, the Photographic Show created by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) celebrated its 25th birthday from February 10-13 in New York.

After Photo L.A. and Photo San Francisco, 2004 saw the birth of Photo New York last Fall, all instigated by the Stephen Cohen Gallery. Four months later, and three months after a very successful Paris Photo, the Photographic Show opened its doors to over eighty international galleries and dealers, most of which from the US. Although attendance was far from meeting the crowds seen in Paris, the Photographic Show drew more visitors than the new Photo New York, mainly focusing on the dealers’ market whereas Photo New York had also invited photo-book publishers and distributors as its panel discussion “The Evolution of Photography in Print” attested. For several years now AIPAD has had a special committee focusing on the organization of educational programs during the show. William Hunt supervised this year’s lectures: an evening in the memory of Helen Gee and the Limelight Gallery, a presentation of the photographic collections of the Mid-West, and an evocation of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s life and work originally announced as moderated by Peter Galassi from MoMA, effectively conducted by William Hunt. As a comparison, Photo New York had invited two photographers, Larry Fink and Joel Peter Witkin, to give presentations on their respective works. Attendance to AIPAD’s lectures had decreased last year, especially when compared to the previous year when Thomas Struth had given an extremely well-attended presentation in the wake of his retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum. That same year a very interesting and rather impromptu debate had happened during the introduction to New York’s best museum collections, remembered by the exchange entertained by Peter Galassi (MoMA) and Jeff Rosenheim (the Metropolitan Museum) on the recent deaccession of prints from MoMA’s Atget archive (see Afterimage Vol. 30, #5). This year’s events confirmed the trend noticed in 2004. Except for the emotion triggered by the memory of Helen Gee, a few anecdotes and a debate between Joel Meyerowitz and Susan Meiselas on the compared virtues of working as a lonesome American photographer or for an international cooperative of photographers, the presentations were somewhat uninspired and uninspiring.


© Bruno Chalifour
At FotoFest 2006
May 9, 2006

This year, FotoFest, "the" American photo festival, celebrates its twentieth birthday. Created in 1986 in the wake of two French festivals, the Rencontres d’Arles and the Paris Mois de la Photo, helped by the latter in its early days, FotoFest was born from the will and the desire of two international photojournalists, Frederick Baldwin and Wendy Watriss. Their challenging goal for Houston, Texas, was to create an event showcasing the various uses of photography whether artistic, committed, documentary, humanistic and/or political for the purposes of cultural exchange and communication. Their mission was to introduce quality photography into the Texan landscape (whose reputation at the time was said to be rather unfavorable to the arts) by basing their work on a multiplicity of approaches. Initially they wanted to create an international festival giving photography the exposure it deserves in a country in which photographs had clearly been valued for a long time - the fact that there are black and white photographs and not Renoir or Van Gogh reproductions on the walls of apartments in American sitcoms is revealing. They also chose to exhibit the work of national and international artists in mid-career and thus promote them (the international character of the festival was always emphasized). To this end, within the framework of each FotoFest, they created a meeting place between photographers and diffusers of photographic images, be they gallery owners, art dealers, curators, or archivists. The decidedly humanistic and pedagogic quality with which they wanted to insufflate the festival has been enhanced by the use of photography for educational purposes and for the elimination of illiteracy within the underprivileged schools of Larger Houston. A program entitled Literacy Through Photography in 36 schools was implemented throughout the Houston area. This program has been so successful that it has been emulated by the Rencontres Arles under the new direction of François Hébel (who was in Houston in March) and François Barré.

FotoFest has always chosen ambitious themes and published important catalogues. In 1990, after five years of negotiations, FotoFest was able to invite 27 photographers from the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Shows and artists were sponsored by the festival and a Fulbright scholarship was obtained to present their works in several American universities. The 1992 festival was devoted to Europe and Latin America, 1994 to globalization, and 1998 to Mexico,  Italian landscape photography, Africa and especially South Africa. FotoFest 2000 was devoted to Korean and Scandinavian photography, while 2002 focused on new technologies, and 2004 on problems related to water on the planet and in the United States. Finally, 2006 presents two distinct topics: "The Earth" and "Artists Responding to Violence".

The numerous exhibition of this 2006 festival, as those of the preceding biennials did, break up into two groups. The distinction lies in their financing and management. However they are complementary most of the time in their concerns and theme, if not form. Works of more than fifty photographers are shown in spaces collaborating directly with the festival, either institutional or private. Museums and galleries compete with old industrial warehouses converted into artist spaces, and even with company headquarters – these are numerous in Houston (and used to include Enron, whose ex-leaders are now accused of fraudulent bankruptcy and other abuses), and still include Halliburton. Also associated with the festival but distinct from it are 82 other spaces, private or public, where photographs are shown.

This year FotoFest at Vine Street Studio, the permanent FotoFest office, opened its doors again to international photography: new Russian photography (AES+F and Sergey Bratkov), the Argentine Paula Luttringer (who won the new discovery prize at PhotoEspaña 1999), the French Yves Gellie and Liza Nguyen, the Colombian Manual Juan Echavarria, the Australian Nathalie Latham, the German Claudio Hils, and the Irish David Farrell. All these shows are quite politically charged, something that the galleries and the readers of American photographic magazines have had very little exposure to (all the more in these last four years). The group AES+F showed the images seen in Arles in the summer of 2004, great color photographs in which young teenagers wearing tee-shirts and light-colored shorts pose in lunar Sci-Fi like landscapes, armed with aluminum tubes which resemble missile launchers that could have fooled a US general (they even have triggers). The photographs are digital collages and their mood is quite disturbing. The association of children, staged as if they were the participants to an advertising campaign for a summer clothing collection, contrasts with the assault weapons which the young people carry like so many accessories. The desert post-nuclear landscapes in which they pose add to the strange “atmosphere” of these tableaux. Paula Luttringer went back to the site of her kidnapping and detention by the police and para-military forces of the Argentinean dictatorship in the years 1970-80. She has associated to her photographic testimony the words of other women who had "disappeared", then “reappeared,” she being one of them–the only signs left by those who never “re-appeared” show as graffiti on the walls of the cells she photographed. Yves Gellie exhibited images “with a personal twist” brought back from Afghanistan and Iraq, and Nguyen, images from Vietnam as well as still-lives of handfuls of grounds she visited. Echavarria is interested in the people who disappeared in the Medellin area, while David Farrell concerned himself with the people that the IRA executed, and buried in places kept secret for years. Hils managed to photograph the hyper-real "village" where German police forces trained for urban guerrilla warfare. Nathalie Latham obtained the authorization to photograph another strange "village", in “The Prisoner" (the famous British serieal) style: in 1957 City Number 65 underwent one of the largest radioactive accidents in the history of the USSR, a catastrophe which led to the closing of the city to all foreigners. This secluded town still serves as a laboratory of observation for the genetic effects of the catastrophe.

This year FotoFest occupied industrial warehouses converted into artist spaces at Winter Street, just outside downtown Houston, a tactic which provides affordable studios for artists and avoids turning industrial wastelands into no-man’s lands, all the while adding cultural value to the place (while waiting for that zone to be redeveloped, which will cause rents to rise... and the ousting of the artists, such an evolution has just occurred in the Soho district of Manhattan). The topic developed there was "The Earth" with works by Heidi Bradner, Dornith Doherty, John Ganis, Jules Greenberg, Vadim Gushchin, Masaki Hirano, Noël Jabbour, Vesselina Nikolaeva, Hyung Geun Park, Peter Riedlinger, Ruwedel Mark, Martin Stupich and Barbara Yoshida.

Also honored this year was Harri Kallio, who won the 2005 European publishing houses prize, bestowed in Arles last summer. A project which features the fictitious heroic dodos of Mauritius, a series that, for one who has seen Ice Age, the animation movie, does not make one laugh anymore - quite the contrary. One can question the artistic or quite simply the cultural value of a handful of stuffed dodos stuck in various landscapes: we’ve already been so bored with the traveling red settees or made-up dogs... After the dodos sedated their audience, the next step is the rusted and rusting carcasses described without imagination by Eric Klemm, or the reproductions of postcards and family photographs (personal or found) of Muriel Hasbun or Angilee Wilkerson, so many off-putting pseudo “ready-mades” or collages that have encumbered our the “fine-art” photography world for the past twenty years.

Among the diversity of non-official participating spaces, of note in the Jung Center close the the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, is the work of a local photographer of international repute, Geoff Winningham – an “autobiographical, geographical and metaphorical" work, to put it in Robert Adams’s words. This series began in 1982 by a visit to the Mexican village Mineral de Pozos which became a ghost town after the mines were closed. The particular relationship that Winningham developed then with Pozos, a relationship primarily expressed in photographs, was confirmed when he and his wife bought land there in 1999. What gives Winningham’s photographic work its strong coherence is the expression of his attachment to a land and a landscape marked by human work, an experience communicated in a variety of formats and media. Among these, the photographer offers a series of aluminum prints whose aesthetic is reminiscent of Lee Friedlander’s recent Apples and Olives series.

As usual, the festival offers a catalogue which lists both official and non-official spaces and whose format resembles that of the catalogues published by Paris Mois de la Photo or the Rencontres d’Arles. For twenty years now, Houston has been offering the United States its unique international photo festival From its inception Fotofest has provided a window wide-open on our world which makes one forget the often very self-centered tendencies of American photography (and culture). FotoFest is a breath of ethics and humanism in a country where these approaches do not seem very valued, at least by the reigning caste. Texas is not just about the Bush dynasty, Enron or Halliburton, it is also, fortunately, FotoFest, an extraordinary festival that Texans can be proud of.