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2012 Guernsey Photography Festival channelling good photography

Gemma Padley reviews the 2012 Guernsey Photography Festival, which features work by Mark Power, Ricardo Cases, Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Ivor Prickett and is open until 22 June

Held from 24 May – 22 June this year, the Guernsey Photography Festival is now in its third year and remains a promising presence on the European photography festival circuit. Founded by photographer Jean-Christophe Godet, the 2012 edition features around twenty exhibitons plus workshops, talks and exhibition tours.

Last year’s theme was ‘Identity’ and boasted an impressive line up including work by Richard Billingham and Martin Parr; this year the theme is ‘Journey’, both in the sense of a physical movement and as metaphor for self-discovery. “I wanted to use the notion of journey as a starting point, not necessarily as in travelling somewhere physically but more in terms of a spiritual or emotional journey,” says Godet. “My aim is to show different styles of photography presented in interesting ways. I want to produce a festival that is as honest as possible and of the highest quality.”

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With few dedicated exhibition spaces on the island the challenge for the organisers is to find and transform suitable spaces, with the festival exhibiting work both indoors in disused shops and outside in the gardens of Priaulx Library and Market Square. For the most part the images were well displayed although there was a slight delay to one or two exhibitions; for me, any mild frustration was quickly tempered by the quality of images on show. There were seven big name photographers this year including Mark Power, whose two exhibitions The Shipping Forecast and The Sound of Two Songs were exhibited together for the first time and, for me, the standouts of the festival.

The Sound of Two Songs was shot in Poland over a five-year period, and is a poetic and personal response to the landscapes and people Power encountered. Almost fifty prints were shown in temporary exhibition space The Rotunda, a good venue with its unfussy, stripped-back interior and close proximity to the waterfront. The Shipping Forecast is more traditional, comprising around 25 black-and-white images that were beautifully framed and presented at Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery complete with Radio 4 soundbites. The exhibition was topped off by another great sea view across Candie Gardens on leaving the museum and there was a nod to the Queen’s Jubilee with a series of prints along a nearby footpath showing the Queen on various visits to Guernsey over the years.

Another successful exhibition was by Agence VU’s Bruno Boudjelal, collecting images from 1993 on documenting his journeys to his father’s native Algeria. A hundred or so images from the series Disquiet Days (published as a photobook by Autograph in 2009) were shown in the intimate venue of a former hairdresser’s shop, a bright space just off the busy high street. In many of the images people are photographed uncomfortably close, often in motion with blurred faces, creating a highly charged and moving body of work. The colour and black-and-white images looked great in the space, and the mosaic-like grid of colour images on the far wall was a particular highlight for me.

French-Slovenian photographer Klavdij Sluban’s work was shown in centre of the Market Square. Having spent a number of years travelling back and forth through Eastern Europe and working entirely on his own terms, Klavdij’s work is purely about self-expression. “What I see, what I encounter, is completely open,” he says. “There are no boundaries. What is important is to create your own path.” The brooding black-and-white images commanded attention and the central location meant many people were able to stop and have a look; on the downside they seemed a little out of place in the colourful marketplace.

By contrast Ricardo Cases’ project Paloma al aire, which depicts the Spanish practice of pigeon racing, was a riot of colour. Shown at The Gallery, one of Guernsey’s few dedicated gallery spaces, this exhibition was the first outside Spain for the project, which has gained cult status as a photobook, and it was great to see the work transported from page to wall. Dewi Lewis published the book last year, and he was also on hand to give an insightful talk about the photography publishing industry.

Cases was also in Guernsey to talk about his work, showing images from another series on hunting in Spain alongside presentations by Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Ivor Prickett at the Princess Royal Centre for Performing Arts on 26 May. Featuring graphic images of dogs covered in blood and dead deer with ripped necks, Cases’ work was compelling.

Ivor Prickett, who is exhibiting Days of Anger, a series of images taken during the last days of President Mubarak, also gave an interesting presentation. Taking the audience through earlier work in Croatia, the Gali district of Abkhazia and Libya, he spoke of his preference for photographing on the periphery and recording “the ordinary things people go through in extraordinary situations”.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind showed an excellent slideshow the same evening, produced by Panos’ Anna Stevens, which helped to place her Siberian Supermodels series in context, something I felt was missing from her exhibition at Liberation Monument in St Peter Port. The images are thought-provoking and beautifully shot, but the series isn’t the most accessible work for a public thoroughfare, and some passers-by seemed puzzled by them.

Emerging photographers

This year the festival organisers called for emerging photographers to submit their work too, and they received more than 100 submissions; from this, 13 up-and-coming photographers were invited to exhibit at the festival. Eight of them were shown together in one key venue on the Albany South Esplanade, with Tim Simmons exhibiting a huge print of a beautifully-lit forest scene and Malika Delrieu showing images of immigrants caught in limbo along the southern border of the European Union, waiting to be told if they can enter the EU. It was great to see so many emerging photographers featured in the festival but the venue wasn’t inspiring and some of the work seemed a little lost in it. An adjoining projector room showing work was a nice touch though.

2011 Guernsey Photography Festival winner Kiana Hayeri’s work tracing the lives of Iranian girls as they make the transition to adulthood, sometimes leaving their homeland as Hayeri did in 2005, was engaging and deserved a stronger platform. In a lunchtime talk on 25 May Hayeri showed other work including the series Your Veil is a Battleground Phase II, defiant and confrontational portraits of Iranian young women with and without make-up. It will be interesting to see where she goes next. There were many other exhibitions and events, and I won’t list them all, but elsewhere I liked the local images in the grounds of the Priaulx Library, and George Melies’ 1902 film A Trip To The Moon, which was projected after dark on the side of the Albion building.

The festival gets just 10% of its funding from local public arts fund Guernsey Arts Commission and the rest is from the private sector, a factor that gives it a local, community feel. This is both its strength and its weakness and, as BJP noted last year, can give it a slightly confused identity, caught between catering for local residents and the international photography community. A year on, this remains the case, and it’s something the organisers need to address if the festival is to claim its place among the major festivals. Still, for a small festival, the quality and variety of work is impressive, and there’s no doubting Godet’s unwavering passion for the medium.

Guernsey Photography Festival continues until 22 June 2012

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