This month two photography festivals, Photo Fringe and Photoworks, deliver a combined and extensive roster of events, workshops, and digital talks. We’ve picked out a few highlights from programmes entitled ‘Propositions for Alternative Narratives’ and ‘TAKE/MAKE’ ahead of a packed post-quarantine October.
Photo Fringe hosts an accomplished and generous selection of online and in-venue exhibitions and events that address making, taking, and a call to action. With over 150 events on offer, from physical installations by the YumYum Collective ‘On The Otherside There’s More Wood’ to Richard Mark Rawlins’ photographic ‘Conversations Over Tea’, Photo Fringe 2020 features contributors and collectives from all kinds of diverse disciplines and backgrounds.
Studio Lenca, the winner of the Photo Fringe OPEN20 SOLO award, first and foremost demands representation in the gallery. Bringing visual identity to the front and centre, their digital exhibition ‘Los Historiantes’ is vivid and arresting, a moving display of ‘performance’ images interrogating absence, erasure, and colonisation.
Taking us beyond the confines of our cluttered sitting rooms and dim kitchens, Katy Beinart and John Edwards reach into the domestic chats we engage in with our friends, family, neighbours, and strangers. While adhering to the state-sanctioned two-metre distancing rules, they have recorded animated conversations (and dance routines) in Brighton, from The Level to Queen’s Park. View online here.
Another ode to quarantine comes in the form of ‘இருவரின் வாழ்க்கை, எல்லையற்ற அன்பு (Two Lives, Boundless Love)’, a digital showcase that navigates distance, diaspora, and family dynamics. Sneha Soodamani connects and translates intimate photographs to the handwritten word, tenderly timing the 8:03am teeth brush and the afternoon facetime in a pleasing diptych exhibition.
‘Wasteland’ (pictured above) is an evocative response to another worldwide pandemic on our hands: plastic. A series of haunting images bring together a shopping trolley and domestic appliances filled with plastic to juxtapose beach scenes, green spaces, and hazy forests. This work feels environmentally disparate and wistfully inorganic. Food for thought.
In considering identity, Heather Agyepong’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ exhibition explores and reclaims Afro-Caribbean spaces and the history of Black vaudeville performer Aida Overton Walker. In a series of staged sepia portraits, Agyepong engages with ‘Le Cake Walk’ postcards, reframing and redefining a routinely racist past (and present).
With a history in mobile museums, archiving, and narrative possibilities, the artist Dayanita Singh has inspired Photoworks to take the archetypal festival model out of the box, to shake it around, and to make it into… another box. In an unusual and incongruous fashion, Photoworks 2020 can be experienced as a portable and physical photography “festival in a box”. Find director Shoair Mavlian in conversation with the curatorial thinker herself on 7th October. It’s a considered and thought-through approach, designed to be unpacked, dissected, and reconstructed in a workshop on 10th October. Reserve your place here.
A collaborative Queer history workshop on 11th October looks at how we archive, preserve, and document the significant objects that surround us. The process of reclaiming queer narratives and restoring artistic autonomy are put centre stage, as this interactive digital workshop begins to reassess curatorial structures and cultural agency.
Photoworks also boasts a series of outdoor exhibitions in and around Brighton. Find Farah Al Qasimi’s work on Trafalgar Street, exploring postcolonial structures of power and gender in UAE, and wander down the road to Sethembile Msezane’s ‘Sebashilo Ukuthi Basilindile II’, a work concerned with African epistemologies exploring heritage, ancestry, and healing. Other highlights include Poulomi Basu’s ‘Centralia’, and Guanyu Xu’s ‘Temporarily Censored Home’.
If nothing else, the work showcased this month promises an honest artistic engagement with a year of adversity and a history of dissidence. In the wake of COVID-19, these digital platforms help to advance both the Photo Fringe and Photoworks into increasingly accessible and participatory festivals. It’s a privilege to be given access to hundreds of unlikely and enlightening events to engage with everyday, and not one we are ready to give up.