It’s my birthday today.
And thankfully, my wish was granted.
Photo festivals are back!
From my perspective, they’re the life-blood of the photo world, here in the US.
Few things have the potential to change your career, (and your life,) more than spending time among a group of your talented peers, where you can make new connections, create friendships, receive feedback on your work, see new art for inspiration, listen to lectures that light up your ideas, discover new opportunities, eat different food, and walk around a fresh environment.
It literally builds new neural pathways in your brain.
Photo festivals rock!
Our regular readers know I reviewed portfolios at most of the major American photography festivals, in the years leading up to the pandemic.
At one point or another, I attended Medium in San Diego, Filter in Chicago, PhotoNOLA in New Orleans , the NYT review, LACP’s Exposure, the Academy of Art University review in San Francisco, a festival in Santa Fe, and Photolucida in Portland.
For some reason, there has always been push-back against the idea of “pay-to-play,” and I was resistant to attending festivals myself, before a few colleagues talked sense to me in 2009.
I’ve reaped tremendous rewards, both as an artist and writer, and I’m telling you: it’s worth the financial and time investment.
(Plus, your tuition goes to support a non-profit organization, which is putting its energy directly into the community.)
The phrase “it takes money to make money” is correct, but that doesn’t mean it has to take A LOT of money.
Rather, it’s about finding value.
Good output requires good input.
Just as you wouldn’t expect to be healthy if you ate like Morgan Spurlock, when he filmed “Super Size Me,” it’s hard to make your best work if you’re not learning and growing.
If you can’t see great art IRL, and share energy with people who are like-minded, but also very different from you, you’ll get stuck.
Which is where the festival circuit comes in.
If you attend a local event, you can likely save a lot of money on travel and accommodations.
So that’s a route to take, if your budget is tight.
(Many festivals also offer online components now, which is another value play, though you’ll miss out on most of what I’m hyping.)
Just off the top of my head, we’re talking about San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Houston, Chicago, New Orleans, Santa Fe, Boston, New York and Atlanta.
Which means most American photographers have a proper festival within a day’s drive.
(I guess the Hawaiians and Alaskans are shit out of luck.)
And the great thing about going to an event, with an open mind, an open heart, and the intention to press the flesh, is you simply don’t know what will come of it.
The combination of learning, wandering, listening, looking, laughing, eating, talking, drinking, thinking, and meeting new people is always worth the cost, because you’re guaranteed to emerge from the weekend a different person.
(Again, if you put yourself out there. Sitting quietly by yourself, and refusing to engage with others, or get out of your comfort zone if you’re an introvert, will undermine the effort, and exceeds the limits of my guarantee.)
One of the last festivals I attended before the world shut down was Photolucida, in Portland, April 2019.
The memories are so vivid.
I walked for miles, saw scores of photo projects, and ate amazing Thai food.
I attended my first Hardcore Metal show, and was introduced to an entire subculture I didn’t even know existed.
I interviewed the bouncers there, at Dante’s, and then reported to you about the organized street fights, between different left and right-wing “gangs,” (for lack of a better word,) which was pretty cutting edge info, given what happened in PDX the following year.
(And is still happening, unfortunately.)
I’d never been to Portland before, and trying to understand an entirely new local culture, walking around the oddly-compressed downtown, (where I struggled to find the perfect vantage point to get my bearings,) smoking weed on the famed river bridges while talking to a great friend, it all made me richer, emotionally.
If I close my eyes now, I can see events play out in my mind’s eye.
These are the types of experiences we all need, to rebuild our psyches, our creativity, and our sense of self, after one of the most brutal two-year stretches in American history.
(As the President himself said, in his State of the Union address the other night.)
And that’s without even mentioning the PTSD people feel this week, watching an unjust war play out in Ukraine, on their device screens, helpless to stop the onslaught of death and misery.
You feel me?
While I was in Portland, I also met some of the members of the local arts group, the Small Talk Collective.
Like many artists before them, these women joined forces, to support each other as people, as creators, and to make new opportunities for themselves, and members of the “female-identifying, nonbinary, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+” community.
When positive, supportive people stick together, and pull in the same direction towards a common goal, really good things happen.
And wouldn’t you know it, but today, I pulled a little envelope sleeve from my book stack, (which arrived in June 2021,) and it had a postmark from the Small Talk Collective, featuring a slim publication to publicize a new venture.
According to the letter affixed to the outside of the attached ‘zine, the group started their own gallery, Strange Paradise, in the Disjecta Contemporary Arts Center, which is pretty phenomenal.
(And their text mentioned how important such gestures are, coming out of a period of intense isolation.)
The very simple ‘zine, called “Reverberations: Vol.1,” featured work from the first two solo shows the gallery presented, in May/June/July 2021, by Kelda Van Patten and Marilyn Montufar.
It’s a sleek, cool little offering, for sure.
The ‘zine reads more like a promotional piece, than a proper art object in its own right, but so what?
(Not everything can nail the gestalt effect, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.)
Partly, it’s because the writing skews towards artist statement, rather than audience engagement, and because the two included projects are not an obvious fit.
They compliment each other with color palette, and overall image quality, but Kelda Van Patten makes IRL/digital collage work, from still lives, and Marilyn Montufar documented local culture in the hinterlands of Northern Mexico.
(In Chihuahua, where most tourists never, ever go.)
Now, before you assume this is one of those reviews that skews negative, I like this ‘zine a lot.
It’s well-produced and engaging, featuring strong photography within, and all the information you need to figure out its intent.
Furthermore, given most people focused on the high-end production fees I shared, in my recent “Making a Book” column, few seemed to grasp the embedded advice, that a professional-looking publication can impress, on next-to-no money.
This is a great example.
I’m assuming it was printed with a fine-art inkjet printer, double-sided, on a simple, low-weight rag paper, (or newsprint,) but it’s possible these pages come from a high-quality color copier.
You can imagine the Small Talk Collective members, (Audra Osborne, Jennifer Timmer Trail, Kristy Hruska, and Marico Fayre) patiently folding the 4-printed-pages together, with a straight edge, then carefully jamming two staples into the middle, thereby taking separate papers, and making them into a holistic object.
How much could each copy possibly cost to produce? (Not including postage.)
There’s no way it cost more than that, yet here I am, impressed, writing about it.
I now know who these artists are, (again, a benefit, if you’re promoting their exhibitions,) I know the Small Talk Collective has a gallery, and that they’re making publications.
I like this ‘zine, which means I also now have a positive impression of the Small Talk Collective, whereas yesterday, they were not in my consciousness.
If you think back to the mega-column on publishing, I wrote about combining your budget and your vision, with a sense of value and purpose.
Today’s publication is a perfect example of that.
Don’t spend more than you can afford.
And don’t overcomplicate things, if you don’t have to.
Hope that advice is helpful.
See you next week!
If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.