“The democracy of photography”: LOOK/15 Photography Festival — Previewed

Delving into homelessness, boxing and new talent, Liverpool’s international photography festival returns next week with an ambitious programme of events across the city. Here, Heather Garner selects her highlights…

This month sees the Cunard Line celebrate 175 years since its cruise ship Britannia first launched from Liverpool’s docklands; taking people, commerce and culture to the distant shores of America. It therefore seems very fitting that, in this celebratory year, Liverpool’s-own international photography festival, LOOK/15, should choose the idea of Exchange as its all-encompassing (and intercontinental) theme.

Through a host of local and transatlantic artistic collaborations, broader concepts of women, migration and memory will be woven into the narrative. But with such a vast array of juicy subject matter to explore, what can we expect from this year’s programme?

Beginning Friday 15 May, Liverpool will be awash with workshops, awards, exhibitions and public art at some of the city’s best loved arts venues, including the Bluecoat, FACT, Walker Art Gallery, Tate Liverpool and Open Eye Gallery. But this year LOOK/15 intends to spill out of the traditional art space and bring the festival into the streets of the city itself in an attempt, as executive director Emma Smith told us, “to reflect the democracy of photography”. By hosting interior and external exhibitions we are afforded an opportunity to explore the ‘exchange’ of ideas that occur between local and international artists, but also between the vastly different settings that the artist’s works are placed in.

“We are forced to confront the conflicts of male adolescence and the gender stereotypes that are often forced upon society at large”

Alongside a traditional exhibition at dockside gallery Alchemy/Warp Liverpool, a poster run of American artist Jona Frank’s photographs will be dispersed across the city at selected sites in a bid to bring photography into the public realm. Depicting male youths from local community boxing clubs, we are forced to confront the conflicts of male adolescence and the gender stereotypes that are often forced upon society at large.

Continuing along this democratic display of photography, local artist Tony Mallon makes use of the derelict Futurist Cinema’s façade with the erection of a large scale printed piece that explores the absences that exist within the institutions that care for the homeless. Like Frank’s work, Mallon will exhibit in the traditional gallery setting of FACT as part of the current exhibition Group Therapy: Metal Distress in a Digital Age; but by placing his work in amongst the hustle and bustle of the city streets, we are able to gain a new perspective.

It is in this juxtaposition that Emma Smith sees the theme of exchange blossom: “It’s those synergies between space and image; between message and deployment, and also that idea of co-hosting.”

“Keeping one eye fixed firmly on the future, established, mid-career and aspiring photographers are provided the opportunity to be viewed side by side as equals” 

Along with this concept of co-hosting, the theme of exchange moves beyond local and transatlantic connections by inspiring the next generation of talented photographers. One such forward-thinking collaboration is Exchange Group Show: combining first and second year students from Hugh Baird College, the Texas Photographic Society and the Liverpool non-profit organisation, If Only… in a group show of international standing. By keeping one eye fixed firmly on the future, established, mid-career and aspiring photographers are all provided the opportunity to be viewed side-by-side as equals, in the hope of providing a much needed platform for exciting new talent, and ensures the craft of creating photographic works does not go unnoticed.

For those who are yet to embark upon a photographic career, and those who are simply wishing to learn more about this ubiquitous medium, workshops and talks allow an opportunity for the exchange of ideas to flourish between expert and novice alike. On 29 May, in joint partnership with Constellations and The Eclipse Darkrooms, photographer Ab Badwi will be sharing his wisdom of the new (and old) technologies of photography from analogue to digital, in order to create unique photographic compositions. The following day, artist-turned-curator John Davies will be discussing his exhibition at Kirkby Gallery utilising Open Eye Gallery’s vast archive of photography — including work from the likes of Bert Hardy, Edith Tudor-Hart, Martin Parr, Chris Steele-Perkins, John Stoddart and Tom Wood.

So, what can we expect from this year’s LOOK/15? To put it simply, photography at its most culturally relevant and egalitarian. This year’s festival continues its forge forward into new territories by reaching out in search of photographic talent from beyond the local sphere, whilst remaining thoroughly embedded in Liverpool’s own unique cultural identity.

Heather Garner

LOOK/15 International Photography Festival opens 15 May and runs until 31 May 2015 — most events are free. See website for more details

Posted on 07/05/2015 by thedoublenegative