As I mentioned in a previous episode of this mini-series (here), a good way to create a buzz is to include other photographers. That is: to plan a mini popup foto festival. Each photographer invites their people, more people attend, more contact is made.
Below, you’ll find some of the nuts and bolts aspects of how I plan a mini popup foto festival. But before I get to that I have to mention that a festival should be more than a merely commercial (Let’s Sell Books!) concern.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a festival for the sake of hype, and hype only, will limit its reach and importance.
If your festival is entwined with some other, deeper need, beyond just showing your work or selling your book, you’ll create something that will mean more to you, something that will have a point other than simple commerce. Let’s call it: a mission.
So what, you might ask, is the mission of the festival I’m organizing?
Briefly: I’m at odds with the prevailing ethos of the local (serious) photo-scene. The work that is held up, noticed, and promoted here is, like the city itself, mostly cautious, conventional and conservative.
The Mini Popup Foto Festival is about supporting, and bringing forward, photographers whose work embraces risk, discovery and complexity. Photographers who venture out into the world to bring back images that reflect their relationship to (or with) what they find there. Photographers who then weave that raw material into long-form photo- sequences where the narrative arc adds up to more than the sum of the parts.
Complex, difficult work may not be fashionable in some local photo-scenes, but is important and deserves to be seen.
There, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the (my) nuts and bolts of putting together a mini popup foto festival.
First, the festival should be high-speed/low-drag, hyper-local, street-level, and completely independent. That’s my jam.
I figured on including myself and three other photographers. I know two who make work I can get behind, and who had recently produced books. I spent, on and off, a week looking around until I found a fourth photographer who met the criteria. (Ava Margueritte, Phil Rose, Souki Belghiti, me).
Next step, find venues to exhibit the work. I wanted places where the photographs would face out toward the street. That way passers-by can (and will) just happen across them, and the work is visible 24/7.
I’m lucky that my neighbourhood, approached the right way, is kind of like a village. I know my neighbours and local shopkeepers. It took me less than a day to find three spots that suited the purpose.
The locations are all on one block of Somerset Street, right around the corner from where I live. We’ve got the big window of a shuttered restaurant (which will show the work of two photographers), the barbershop window, and the railing around a coffee shop.
(The previous mini festival I organized used two big windows of vacant stores. It took five or six minutes to walk from one to the other, and that’s too far. I learned that for something like this to “work”, keeping it compact is key.)
We’re going to mount the photographs on nicely finished boards that will be hung in the windows (Except for the coffee shop, where the photos will be displayed outside).
Here are the boards we’ll use in the restaurant window, and the swell plywood that’ll fit nicely in the barbershop.
For publicity, we’ve created a Facebook event page and have planned other social media campaigns. We’ve also printed posters, and an 8 page booklet. The booklet will be free to the first 60 people who come to the opening.
If this all sounds straightforward, simple, well . . . that’s because it is. Anyone can do it. There’s no need to gussy things up, to be precious, to shroud the process in mystery. Just make sure you bring a high level of professionalism to the endeavour. And make sure the photos are well presented.
The Mini Popup Foto Festival opens Sunday June 4th.
In order to make it an actual festival (as opposed to just hanging our photos) we’ve arranged a couple of events.
The Sunday after the opening we’ll be hosting, on site, artist talks. The following Sunday we’ll close out the festival with a Zoom meeting with Souki Belghiti, who lives in Morocco. That Zoom meeting will be available to anyone, anywhere, who cares to log in.
Let me tell you, there’s no action like direct action.