Photography Oxford: a new festival

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Photography Oxford Festival 14 throws open its doors this weekend (Sunday 14 September). The new photo festival was founded by photojournalist Robin Laurance and has a team that includes Colin Jacobson, ex-picture editor of The Observer Magazine and The Independent Magazine, and Francis Hodgson, the photography writer for the Financial Times and co-founder of the Prix Pictet.

Using venues such as the Pitt Rivers Museum, Wadham College and the O3 Gallery at Oxford Castle, the festival features 23 exhibitions, including World Press Photo 2014. The solo shows include Robin Hammond’s take on Robert Mugabe’s repressive regime in Zimbabwe; Anglo-Egyptian photographer Laura El-Tantawy’s project In the Shadow of the Pyramids; French photographer Bernard Plossu’s first UK show; and Mimi Mollica’s Bus Stories, a series showing CCTV images.


The group exhibitions include a show devoted to Finnish photographers Pentti Sammallahti, Veli Granö and Arno Rafael Minkkinen; the Document Scotland Collective’s take on Scottish identity on the brink of its vote on independence; and Designed to Deceive, an exhibition on the photograph as construct.

The festival also boasts an excellent programme of talks and events, including speakers such as academic and writer David Campany; head of film and photos at Save the Children Jess Crombie; artist and activist Peter Kennard; publisher Dewi Lewis; and photographers Seamus Murphy, Gideon Mendel, Alexandra Fazzina and Stuart Franklin. Discussion topics include shooting ‘concerned photography in the age of image overkill’, strategies for survival in contemporary documentary photography, the influence of photography in the Northern Ireland peace process, and the role of photojournalism as an eyewitness to history.

The festival is also screening several films, including The Mexican Suitcase, the story of three lost boxes of negatives belonging to Robert Capa, by David “Chim” Seymour and Gerda Taro; Which Way Is the Frontline From Here?, a documentary on Tim Hetherington by his close friend and collaborator Sebastian Junger; and Fairytale, A True Story, a film loosely based on the story of the Cottingley Fairies and shown as a drive-in movie.

Photography Oxford Festival 14 will open to the public on 14 September and run for three weeks (until 5 October). “We will be exploring all the photographic genres through the work of some of the world’s leading photographers,” says festival director Laurance. “Henry Fox Talbot, Britain’s pioneer of the photographic process, made some important images in Oxford during the 19th century. It’s time to celebrate the city’s links with the beginnings of an art form that has become ever-present in all our lives. It’s a beautiful city with exhibition spaces in lovely historic buildings.

“We intend Oxford to be the place where photography is not only celebrated but where it is debated, examined and challenged. We want to open people’s minds to photography.”

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Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy