Earlier this year the London design company JohnsonBanks asked me to select 10 significant images from the Format International Photography Festival 2011, here is the piece I wrote for them.
FORMAT was established in 2004, by Louise Clements and Mike Brown, and is now one of the UK’s leading non-profit international contemporary festivals of photography and related media. The biennale programme celebrates the wealth of contemporary practice in international photography. The theme for the 2011 festival was street photography with the title of ‘Right Here, Right Now': Exposures from the public realm. The Derby based festival which ran throughout March brought together for the first time some of the greatest names in street photography and reflected the current resurgence the approach is experiencing. Photographers converged on Derby from all over the world and included the legendary Joel Meyerowitz who acted as the festival patron. To wander the galleries was to experience the world in all its quirky variety and beauty, the images presented candid street scenes from different decades as well as from different continents. Often described as ‘the hardest challenge in photography’ street photographers work with the simplest of equipment to observe and record candid moments of magic on our everyday streets, literally making something out of nothing through the act of photography. It is my pleasure to select ten images from this years festival that highlight what is special about the street photographers approach.
01 Although primarily a photojournalist, the Magnum photographer Alex Webb has long been considered a street photographer at heart, his busy and colourful frames juxtapose numerous elements leaving your eye roaming around the picture unable to rest, discovering new details as it goes. His pictures balance carefully his subject matter, in this case Istanbul, and his own photographic virtuosity. His framing of busy street scenes, full of elements in motion is second to none.
02 Bruno Quinquet is a quiet Frenchman working in Tokyo, for the last four years he has been photographing the anonymous suits of corporate Tokyo for his Salaryman project. The candidly made images use various devices to avoid identifying the various businessmen he photographs, Bruno’s way of commenting on the increasing constraints being applied to candid portraiture and street photography.
03 In 2009 Zhang Xiao left his job as a photographer at the Chongqing Morning Post to photograph the 18,000 km of China’s coastline. Xiao says the sea is ‘a place of strong emotions and rich imagery, it is the beginning of lives and dreams’. Shooting on film and hand printing in muted tones Xiao’s pictures have the feeling of aged images of the past but when one looks closer their subjects reflect the quickly changing China of today. This picture is typical of the quiet and the spiritual that pervade his beautiful images.
04 Glasgow born Dougie Wallace now lives in the East End of London but his pictures tend to be made on his regular travels across Europe and beyond. This image is from his series ‘Reflections on Life’ in which Dougie has photographed commuters on trams in cities including Sarajevo, Ukraine and Albania. The pictures blend beautifully the internal and external worlds, tram passengers are melded with the passing scenery and architecture. I admire his fearless approach in photographing strangers so closely through the glass.
05 Garry Winogrand died in 1984 leaving behind nearly 300,000 unedited images and 2500 unprocessed rolls of film, most of this now held by The Centre for Creative Photography in Arizona. Shooting in New York and America during what is considered to be the ‘Golden Age’ of street photography between the late 1950’s and the 1980’s, the vast majority of Winogrands work was made in black and white.
The Format festival were able to obtain a selection of rare unseen colour images that were edited for the festival by Joel Meyerowitz. These images speak to me of a less self conscious and more naive time, a time when maybe identical twins still dressed a like.
06 Joel Meyerowitz is a legend for many of the current generation of street photographers, he has a generosity of personality that is evident both in meeting him in person and in viewing his pictures. There is a lust for life and it’s unexpected richness that is evident in his images. He was an early pioneer of colour street photography and has championed the medium for many decades. Joel was co author of the street photography bible ‘Bystander’ that was published in 1994 and has been a huge support and influence on my own street shooting and that of my colleagues. I chose this image because it symbolises for me the energy and joy for life that Joel Meyerowitz still has now in his 70’s.
07 In January 2010 I bought a book on a whim from a small Tokyo bookstore called ‘Citizens’, when it arrived I was delighted by my little gamble. The book contained some of the best contemporary street photography I had seen by a virtually unknown Japanese street photographer called Jun Abe. I took the liberty of scanning some of the work and posting it online which caused a huge stir as, for many, it was the first time his work had been seen outside of Japan. Over the subsequent year Jun’s work has gained a great deal of respect and the Format Festival gave him his first public exhibition in the West.
08 Between August and December 2008 Frederic Lezmi travelled between Vienna and Beirut, a journey from The West to The Orient, the resulting photographs explore where one ends and the other begins. The project was published as the striking book ‘Beyond Borders’ which unfolds to a length of 11 meters and was displayed in its entirety on the gallery wall at Format. This lovely image of a cleaning lady taken through a net curtain has always been a favourite of mine, the photographer looking from the street into a private world unseen by his subject. The outside world is reflected in the glass while she herself is reflected in the mirror she cleans, all rendered in a subtle palette of pastel colours. Frederic has elevated a simple cleaning lady into a classical thing of beauty.
09 The Slovakian photographer Martin Kollar is a favourite of mine from the current generation of street photographers, his quirky moments from off beat local cultural events around Eastern Europe were published in the book ‘Nothing Special’. Kollar manages to create a series of images of surreally unconnected scenes that are held beautifully together under the umbrella of his own strong personal vision, a trick that many street photographers fail to achieve. The result is that each image stands wonderfully on its own, containing its own narrative while also being one element of the whole series and book.
10 The in-public international street photographers group has played a significant role in promoting street photography since it’s formation in 2000, the group displayed over 60 images at the Format Festival alongside a documentary film following it’s members on the streets of New York, London, Rotterdam and Melbourne. The group has three Australian members and I have chosen to include this image from Adelaide based Narelle Autio. Many of Narelle’s images feature the beach or the Ocean and take advantage of the extraordinary Australian light, her heightened sense of colour often makes the images resemble early colour postcards.
The Format Festival will return with a new theme in 2012 but if your appetite for street photography has been stimulated, you can see more at a number of events this year.
The Museum of London’s ‘London Street Photography’ show is on until the 4th September and The London Street Photography Festival runs between 7th and 17th July around Kings Cross.