This year’s annual Noorderlicht Photofestival is set to open this week (6 September) in Groningen, Holland under the theme Human Conditions. For the first time since its inception in 1990, the international festival of photography has invited five guest curators to create individual shows: Stuart Franklin, Simon Njami, Marc Proust, Bas Vroege and myself. I’ll write more on the other shows once everything’s done and dusted after next week but for now, here’s a sneak preview of the work that will feature in my show, Closing In.
I have addressed the theme Human Conditions through the work of six documentary photographers exploring interesting ways of working. They have moved away from traditional photojournalism to produce atypical work. These photographers are often working independently and against industry demands, responding with fresh, innovative, boundary-pushing ideas. What unites them is the desire to tell a story, and to find ways to develop that story. The stories they choose often possess a deeply personal resonance, without being introspective, yet manage to convey the voices of their subjects, or their collaborators, many of whom do not have access to conventional media channels.
Street violence and gang warfare is a problem affecting every major metropolis on earth. News headlines are awash with stories of the next shooting or stabbing, but rarely are we given a glimpse into such a closed-off area as we are with the work of Adam Patterson , who, with the support of one young gang member, Vipoh, reveals a way of life in Brixton, South London. Vipoh wrote down his daily thoughts for Patterson, who used the handwritten material in the book he made for his masters degree. The unique relationship he shares with Vipoh has come to form the crux of his project, as Vipoh plays an active role in determining the course of the collaboration. Images documenting Vipoh’s daily life and family will be exhibited along with his handwritten thoughts and music he has created. (Adam Patterson’s work, Another Lost Child, is featured in the current issue of 8 magazine)
Similarly, the work of Lurdes Basoli’s are concerned with the portrayal of daily violence in the favelas of Caracas, Venezuela, resulting in shocking yet intimate imagery. Her intense work on the subject and being accepted within the communities in Caracas is integral to her story. In 2008 alone, 15,000 people were murdered in Venezuela. Basoli, who has been working on the subject tirelessly for the past year, seeks out answers as to why young people are both the victims and the perpetrators of this incessant violence while also questioning the role of the police – often corrupt and involved in drug rings themselves.
The work of Linda Forsell provides an unusual glimpse into the everyday lives of Palestinians. It is a personal story based on her own experiences of travelling from town to town, speaking with anyone and everyone, about the every day situation for Palestinians. Vital to the project are Forsell’s interviews providing a rare insight into the people at the heart of the conflict, which are presented along with the photographs. It is not a story about the violence, the number of people dying or about presenting people as victims. It is a story about the underlying mood and normal life situation at the base of the conflict, one that makes it almost impossible to reach peace. (Two of Linda Forsell’s images, including the one below featured in this year’s Foto8 Summer Show )
Underlying themes of immigration and illegality are the basis for Argentine-born photographer Seba Kurtis ’ work – whether it be photographing on the US border with Mexico, in Egypt or the Canary Islands, as immigrants from Africa arrive by the boatload – a personal theme that for him will almost always form the basis of any work he completes. The way in which he visualises his subjects results in a unique take on all that he puts before his lens, using unconventional techniques to symbolise journeys and states of mind. Closing In will also feature a new film made by Kurtis, bringing together his old Super-8 family films, which were damaged in a flood, and those from the violent Argentine dictatorship in the 1970s. (Seba’s work was first shown as a Story of the Week on the Foto8 website and has since been published in 8, exhibited as part of the NY Photo Festival and at HOST gallery)
In Beyond History, Vincent Delbrouck tells the story of his life and friends in Cuba, the result of an eight year-long sojourn, through the use of Polaroids, poems and hand-written text, creating an eclectic travel journal. Getting beneath the skin of the perception of Cuba that is projected to the world, Delbrouck’s imagery delves into the sultry yet uncompromising Cuban psyche resulting in an honest, unaffected body of work.
China is the subject for Wayne Liu’s project The Past is a Foreign Country. A self-taught photographer based in New York, his work serves as an attempt to reconstruct his childhood memories, in a country he has been absent from for over 20 years. Liu becomes a silent voyeur, seeking out traces of the psychological affects of the amalgamation of traditional values with the absurdity of capitalism. Having developed a style of darkroom printing to add a further layer of intention to his filmic work, Liu’s photographs play with every aspect of the medium, the better to express his own ambiguity and uncertainty.
The Noorderlicht Photofestival will be on from 6 September – 4 October in Groningen, Holland. Watch this space for further reports from the opening week of the festival. Seba Kurtis, Adam Patterson and I will be giving a talk on Sunday 6 September in Groningen. See www.noorderlicht.com for more information.
– Lauren Heinz