Think of Sicily and you might think of the beaches and the well-preserved Roman Empire ruins. The Gazebook photo festival might not spring to mind, but it’s back for the third time this September and its organisers are confident it will “astonish, educate and marvel’.
Curated this year by Lina Pallotta, the artistic director, and Teresa Bellina and Melissa Carnemolla, co-founders of the festival (along with Simone Sapienza), the event centres on photobooks but also includes a number of photoseries and exhibition spaces. “The photobook tradition is very important in photography, and photographs are very much at home in the book format,” explains Pallotta.
“We believe that photobooks are not just a collection of images, but, through the editing and sequencing of the images, layers of meaning and questions are added to the stories and to our understanding of it.”
The theme for this edition is ‘Visual communication in uncertainty and chaos’ and although small, the festival will deliver a well-curated selection of work and in the small fishing villa of Punta Secca from 8-10 September. Jason Fulford, Mathieu Asselin, Moises Saman, Giancarlo Ceraudo, Daria Birang, Colin Pantall and Federica Chiocchetti are among the many photographers, curators and publishers involved in the talks, events and reviews, and each of the projects on show speaks to the idea of nationality, identity and power.
Discordia by Moises Saman follows the war and devastation in the MENA region in the wake of the Arab Spring, for example; elsewhere, Leila Fatemi’s work Clothbound explores the ways veiled Muslim women are portrayed and, often, misconstrued in Western culture. Karim El Maktafi’s Hayati [‘My life’ in Arabic] is a visual diary of his identity exploration as a second generation Italian-Moroccan photographer, all shot on his smartphone.
The organisers hope this year’s festival will provoke discussions, pointing out that it’s based on an island which is a crucial crossing point for many refugees journeying from North Africa. “The official story is written by the people in power, who, in most cases, are pressing an agenda full of racism, homophobia, classism, human rights abuses,” says Teresa Bellina, introducing the itinerary. “How do we engage people with collective stories? How can we frame contemporary stories?”
“[The photographs] explore different themes and languages, war, identity, nationality, woman issues, and more, but they intercept the changes in our society, and they question how we see,” adds Pallotta.
Gazebook has already earned a good reputation in its short history, with previous guests including Olivia Arthur, Guy Martin, Max Pinckers and Lorenzo Tricoli (to whom this year’s festival is dedicated after his death in February). The organisers say its success is down to its alternative take on the photo festival, which provides a space for younger voices, new perspectives, and an informal, non-hierarchical atmosphere.
“The main body of the festival is largely made up of talks under the lighthouse, a free and open space where it is possible to discuss and confront with the new and most exciting themes in today’s photography,” explains Bellina.
“No doubt most of those coming to the festival are young photographers looking for new inputs, new ideas and a chance to touch and interact with a world that until recently seemed very distant from us. The festival has given many people the opportunity to finally confront themselves with the European and international photography landscape in person.”
The festival includes free portfolio reviews near the beach, workshops with Jason Fulford and Maria Teresa Salvati, and a symposium under the lighthouse curated by Colin Pantall. Encouraging new talent, both Bellina and Pallotta call for photographers who are attending to get involved, for example via the Impromptu event, in which image-makers can have their work mocked up into a zine.
“I think the festival can never have a definite shape, because it is constantly growing,” says Bellina. “That’s what we want and always thought of: an eternal construction site that has the potential to become an unexpected story.”