The return of FORMAT International Photography Festival

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Clean Hong Kong Action, 2019 © Wai Hang Siu

This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography: Performance. Sign up for an 1854 subscription to receive it at your door. 

Back for its 11th edition, and in-person for the first time since 2019, the photofestival brings work by over 200 international artists to 12 venues across Derby

The long, often difficult days of lockdown may now feel remote, but in the not-too-distant past, navigating this trying time was an all-consuming task. Yet, for those of us fortunate enough to be living in relative safety, this period presented opportunities: a chance to reflect, to recharge and to find new ways to think about the world. This is what the team behind Derby’s FORMAT festival were able to do, and what they now hope will filter through to visitors when the event returns next month for the first time post-pandemic.

“Coming out of Covid, entering the real world again, we wanted to see what people were experiencing in their daily lives, and how they were using photography to either deal with that or portray it,” explains the festival’s curator and coordinator, Niamh Treacy. “Rather than choosing a theme and only seeing projects that fit that theme, we wanted to flip that on its head and ask the photographers to tell us what we should be showing.”

Limbo, 2020-21. © Luciana Demichelis.
Limbo, 2020-21. © Luciana Demichelis.

The result of this fresh approach is a programme as diverse as the image-makers it celebrates. From 16 March to 09 April, 12 venues across Derby will present works by more than 200 artists, hailing from 55 countries. Varied in both style and medium, the photographers explore some of the most pressing issues of today: water scarcity and future food provision; migration; questions of identity; the implications of the climate crisis; and more.

Notable exhibitions include Radical Souls, which focuses on global dance genres and notions of self-identity, and a new body of work by Oliver Frank Chanarin exploring what the artist describes as “the complexity of being seen among the shifting terrain of documentary photography”. Meanwhile, 26 projects – chosen from almost 1000 works submitted for the festival’s open call – will explore imagined utopian futures, queer ecology and the use of digital, analogue and alternative processes. Plus, throughout the opening week, FORMAT will host conferences, portfolio reviews and a photobook fair.

William Lakin, Cheap Atlas, 2020. From the series Five Minutes After Birth. © William Lakin.
Voguing Shanghai, Shanghai Baby Ballroom. © Volta Yang.

Linking all of this together is FORMAT’s community, local and international, who will be returning to explore these works and opportunities for the first time since 2019. “For us to be able to pick up on these themes and showcase them in Derby is really important – to be able to engage as many different communities as we can,” Treacy explains. “For the city, but also for the photographic community, I think this is the first time in a while that people are able to get back to networking, to meeting people and having all those opportunities that the festival environment brings.”

The Embrace of Nature. From the series Sincerely, Tendrara. © Yzza Slaoui.

FORMAT International Photography Festival runs from 16 March to 9 April