“Rhubarb” is British theatrical slang for the undistinguishable babble you might hear in a busy pub, but it
is also the name of the International Photographic Festival held annually in Birmingham, UK, from which I have just returned. There were lots of memorable exhibitions including Nadav Kander’s portrait series, Obama’s People, currently breaking all attendance records at the Birmingham Art Museum. The long weekend began with a lively debate titled “Photography is Dead.” The panel was ably chaired by Stephen Mayes, CEO of the VII photo agency in New York, and included, in addition to myself, Jon Levy, publisher of the London based magazine of photojournalism and documentary photography, Foto8; MaryAnn Camilleri of Magenta Publishing for the Arts, a Toronto-based foundation specializing in emerging Candian artists; John Cross of Peter Bailey Company photo agency; and photographer Brian Griffin. Conclusion? “Photography is dead. Long live photography.” and that technical matters can change everything about image capture except its cultural meaning and our desire to do it.
The heart of this event is the international reviews: three days in which more than 30 curators, publishers, gallerists and critics representing ten different countries meet one-on-one with twelve artists a day to see and discuss new work. It’s a remarkable experience; the energy level is high, as is the quality of work. I thought our readers might like to see some of the variety of work that caught my eye.
Kurt Tong is a young British artist from Hong Kong who has photographed the marvelous paper objects representing such things as cars, fountain pens and ipods that are traditionally burned at Chinese funerals. He uses the simplest photographic style imagineable, but the theoretical implications of photographing simulacra are not lost on him or the viewer.
Edmund Clark is a well known British photojournalist who has just returned from Guantanamo. He documents both the prison and the navy base that supports it, giving us solid visual images by which to understand this dark and mysterious American place.
James Morris’s recent work in Iran is a study of both landscape and people, like Ed Clark, giving us a picture of a place we now barely know.
I loved Marko Dutka’s Portrait of Genius, photos of striking eighty-something artist’s model Daphne Self after self-portraits by Titian, Dürer, Rembrandt and others. Dutka’s comments on gender and power are brilliantly embedded in his strong and beautifully lit images.
As we concluded in our panel, photography is alive and well. I think anyone looking at these photographs would agree.
Alison NordstrÃ¶m is the Curator of Photographs at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Previously the Director and Senior Curator of the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida.
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