Initiated by two dynamic photography lovers, Femke Lutgerik , an independent curator, and photographer Rob Hornstra, FOTODOK is the Netherlands's third photography festival taking place in Utrecht after Noorderlicht and Breda.
Before getting a permanent location, FOTODOK launched "Hit The Road", a festival combining three exhibitions, a series of lectures and an educational programme (September 12 - October 26 2008) which intends to be an international space dedicated to documentary photography.
The first exhibition entitled Road Trip Utrecht presents the work of 10 Dutch photographers who went on a special assignment for FOTODOK, photographing 10 different neighborhoods of Utrecht. The selection of photographers, from newcomers to the established, is quite eclectic and represent not only the multiple faces of Utrecht but also an interesting diversity of approaches toward the documentary genre.
While Henk Wildschut’s pictures of flowers are unexpected and witty, Koos Breukel brought back some compelling portraits. Also to be noticed, the urban landscapes of Raimond Wouda about a "coming out of nowhere" camp site surrounded by skyscrapers right in the center of the city.
The second exhibition takes place at the Flatland Gallery presenting Martin Parr 's series Parking Spaces. From 2003 and 2007, Martin Parr photographed available parking spaces in 41 different countries. Through this conceptual project, Martin Parr with his always elegant sense of humour sheds light onto the universal frustration not to find a place to park one’s car while giving a critical look at the overwhelming car population of this planet.
The third exhibition, Roadmap to Glory, presents the work of three lucky young photographers, recently graduated from Dutch art schools. Selected by a jury of photography professionals, they were offered a grant of 2500 euros to realise a project of their choice around the idea of "Hit the Road".
Lucia Ganieva chose to photograph wedding customs in Russia. Mike Roelofs travelled to Romania and focused on a community on the fringes of society. The work of Karine Versluis is particularly mature and accomplished. Born in 1980, she managed to infiltrate a group of teenagers in the Dutch Antillean Islands. Her combination of portraits and still life makes this intimate project powerful and captivating.
In the entrance of the exhibition space, an antique TV set broadcasts a series of fantastic short videos directed by contemporary photographers:
- *A special bravo to Henk Wildschut’s "Soep", where a static close up on a bowl of soup gives a private choreography to the camera while the viewer slowly starts to realise that the scene is actually taking place on a boat.
- You can watch this video at: www.henkwildschut.com
- *Then comes "Modern Times – Think of England" where Martin Parr in the rainy streets of England asks passers by what they think of the country. The casting is perfect, from football fans to old cranky ladies. Once again, Parr manages to catch completely surreal reactions from these "ordinary" people.
- *Hans Van der Meer’s hysterical video is about strange singular machines such as a remote-controlled golf trolley, automatic cow milking machines or electrical pole cleaners. Mixing the languages and rules of documentary and fiction, Hans van der Meer produces a fantastic piece of art.
- * Also fascinating, a video by Omroep Friesland about photographer Marnix Goossens. Even though I probably missed the point, as this video was in Dutch with no subtitles, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing as I watched Mr Goossens, a peculiar character, performing his own role and playing with clichés about what a photographer
The highlight of the day was the evening event, a series of lectures.
American photographer Andrew Phelps kicked off with a stunning presentation of four bodies of his work.
* Maps and Legends: Andrew photographed the American West with a brilliant combination of empathy and irony, recycling some preconceived ideas about photographing this widely exploited subject.
* Nature de luxe: exploring the culture of camping with its paradoxes, such as the endless search for the "true wilderness experience" which is never really acheived.
* Higley: a very personal but sacrilegious story about family (Phelps’s sister recently bought a prefabricated house in his childhood town, which forced him to go back to this long and intentionally forgotten place) He tells us a universal story about changing landscapes and traditions.
* Baghdad Suite: Phelps accidentally encountered an Arabic city film set in Higley. Again through a humorous approach, Phelps takes an underlying political stand about the skewed American vision of the Middle East.
Last but not the least, a conference by Martin Parr and Erik Kessels about their respective photo collections. Even if there is no need to present the first one, Erik Kessels is also a star on his own. Founder and owner of Kessels Kramer (www.kesselskramer.com – check out this ever-changing web site), an Amsterdam based communication agency located in a former church, Erik Kessels is actually a one-of-a-kind advertising man, turning advertising into a prestigious showcase.
Kessels Kramer always blurs the boundaries between amateur and professional photographers, our perception of good and bad taste and ultimately between art and advertising. KK ‘s advertising campaigns are often based on bratty and clever concepts usually commissioned to contemporary artists rather than the expected commercial photographers. Even if contributors include some international stars (Jean-Pierre Khazem, Anuschka Blommers & Niels Schumm, Taryn Simon and even Martin Parr among others), KK also gives opportunities to young and upcoming photographers, which is rare in this often chilly business. Always miles ahead of his competitors, Erik Kessels is also a curator and a prolific and atypical publisher.
This conference highlights some of his publications: for example, the successful "Useful Photography" which transforms purely ordinary photographs into contemporary art projects by taking them out of their original context. Erik Kessels is an insatiable collector: chasing images on the Internet and in flea markets, he gives them a second life – artistic and glorious.
Martin Parr is also an unquenchable amateur of vernacular photography. For many years, he's collected functional objects with photographs printed on them: watches representing Saddam Hussein (Parr owns about 80 of them!), kitch trays with pictures of food etc…
Parr also presents a remarkable collection of postcards from the turn of the century: showing crime scenes, accidents… only things that went wrong! His selection of advertising cards from the 70’s and 80’s give a moment of fame to the most banal photograph, one of a towel dispenser, for example. Parr’s fascination in the photo studio, led him to collect a series of portraits of him shot by other people. This series is absolutely hilarious and – maybe because of the wine also – made me literally fall off my chair. This unique collection is directly in the vein of Parr’s photographic work as another efficient way of documenting society.
Seeing these two (unusually tall) nice fellows speaking and laughing together, you can only think that they were meant to meet each other (or wonder if they were twins/relatives in a former life) I don’t want to spoil everyone’s fun by telling you more about these lectures: just listen to them.
These two lectures gave a happy and refreshing conclusion to the day. FOTODOK’s initiative deserves to be encouraged, especially because of their ambition to support and promote the work of emerging photographers. Very few festivals take this risk and I can only congratulate them for this brave gesture. I hope to see them expand next year in order to bring more material, more photographers and venues to this very promising festival.
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