“We see it as an opportunity to be experimental and take risks,” says Louise Clements of the FORMAT International Photography Festival, which she’s spearheaded since 2005. “If we see potential in projects we want to support them, working very closely with the artists and helping come up with ideas of how to show their work in an exciting and dynamic way.”
FORMAT17, which will run in Derby from 24 March – 23 April, bears her out, featuring work by cutting-edge and emerging artists such as Lisa Barnard, Liz Hingley and Ben Roberts, rather than more established photographic names. Some of the artists are also better-known in contemporary art than photography, with the key exhibition in the QUAD gallery featuring image-makers such as Lida Adbul, Kenta Cobayashi and Ester Vonplon. “We’re trying to bring things together, there is more to share [than is often put out there],” says Clements.
The lead exhibition is titled Ahead still lies our future and was curated by Clements with Hester Keijser, a freelance curator well-known for her work at, for example, Paris Photo and World Press Photo. The show takes a speculative look at possible futures for our world, including Vonplon’s images of melting Swiss glaciers and Cobayashi’s immersive VR installation Islands is Islands. The theme of the festival this year is HABITAT, which Clements has interpreted in terms of the Anthropocene – the new era on earth in which the landscape has been irrevocably altered by people.
“I do a lot of research – reading, talking to people, travelling to areas in Africa and Asia which are less represented online – and I felt the idea of the Anthropocene would be timely,” comments Clements. “It’s a concept that’s important not just in art or photography, but more generally in terms of how we start to understand and come to terms with what’s happened. But the concept of the Anthropocene is quite specific, so I widened the theme to Habitat so that we could include projects that try to understand how we live our lives more generally. I also wanted to make sure that the Open Call would be open enough that a broad range of artists could enter their work.”
The Open Call allows photographers and curators to submit ideas for exhibitions at the festival, and FORMAT17 will include 50 shows sourced this way. Entries came from 68 countries in total, with over half from outside the UK, and include projects such as CJ Clarke’s Magic Party Place, Katrin Koenning’s The Crossing, Poulomi Basu’s A Ritual of Exile, and Dominika Gesicka’s This is not real life (ongoing). It also includes a group show pitched by Rodrigo Orrantia, who suggested curating a show on images of birds featuring image-makers such as Cemre Yesil, Martin Parr, Ricardo Cases and Stephen Gill; and another group exhibition spearheaded by Ciril Jazbec which looks at migration in the Balkans.
“Last year we had 70 Open Call projects; this year we are including a similar number of photographers, because there are two group shows, but fewer exhibitions in total,” says Clements. “We wanted to have more time to work on each project, and give more space to each one.”
Format uses a variety of spaces across Derby, from the QUAD gallery space to outdoor exhibitions and repurposed buildings such as old churches and factories, and Clements says this approach helps ensure the festival is seen by the local population as well as photography insiders, as they stumble across images in the street or go out of curiosity about an unusual setting. The festival also runs talks, tours, and workshops designed to appeal to locals, and initiatives using phones and social media that build on the fact that most people now take pictures and share them.
But FORMAT also kicks off with an opening weekend that attracts photography insiders, which will this year start on 23 March and will include a conference, a photobook market curated by Sebastian Arthur Hau, a portfolio review, and parties. More details will be available in early 2017 at www.formatfestival.com.
BJP will be publishing a special issue of the print magazine in February drawing on the exhibitions featured in FORMAT17 and giving an extra insight into them. The Habitat Issue will go on sale on 01 February.