|Written by Max Houghton|
|25 Mar 2011|
It’s the last weekend of the Format International Photography Festival in Derby, so get your passports stamped for the north now. I feel it’s ok for me to be slightly amused by the fact that Derby has become host to a world-class photography festival, because I was born and brought up there. I was invited to portfolio review on the opening weekend, and was as impressed by the standard of work seen as I was by the diversity of the reviewers. I was delighted that Tessa Bunney won the best overall portfolio prize, and it was highly gratifying to hear Joel Meyerowitz backing her work vociferously.
Street Photography is where it’s at this year, so Format certainly hit the zeitgeist. It’s a harder theme to curate to than the previous festival – Photo Cinema – because of the simple fact that street photography is a necessarily broad category, difficult to define. In the sheer scope and ambition of Right Here, Right Now, Format has pulled off another success. Bruce Gilden’s show at Derby Museum was a highlight. His portraits are utterly compelling, and the accompanying film of him shooting the work on the streets of Derby in the preceding month – by BJP’s Olivier Laurent – revealed Gilden’s humour and charm. As a Derby girl, I know my constituency, and Gilden captured its faces, though with a few omissions. He focused heavily on older people in the city centre… as a portrait of a community, one might summise that the two main pursuits in Derby were smoking and shopping. It was a fantastic show, though, fuelled with an energy that pervades Format and its team, curator Louise Clements and superorganiser Juliet Cooper.
Gilden shares the museum with Mehraneh Atashi's Tehran Portraits. The Holga she uses seems like an appropriate tool to document a rapidly changing city. It’s great to see international work on show in Derby. It makes possible the imagining of a Joseph Wright of Derby exhibition in Iran.
I skipped into the main show in Quad during the portfolio review lunchbreak – not enough time to do it justice. It’s an intriguing show that hangs George Georgiou alongside Polly Braden alongside Joel Meyerowitz alongside Chris Steele-Perkins. Mostly it made me just want to see more than four or five of each artist’s work. It’s a shame I couldn’t linger long enough to experience the resonances palpable in the web of streets across the globe.
I missed out on the shows at the University altogether, where, among others, Stephen McLaren’s work was exhibited. The co-author of Street Photography Now (with Sophie Howarth) also took a little time out to catch another master in the act…
Stephen McLaren photographing Joel Meyerowitz in the act
The gem of the festival, according to critic Sue Steward and many other voices, was the forgotten archive of Vivian Maier. Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago in the 60s and 70s, and at the same time was the creator of a series of documentary films, as well as author of hundreds of thousands of images, none of which she shared with a soul when she was alive. Hunt this work down and watch it.
Format is on until 3 April 2011 in Derby.