This month, we present a small selection of work that will be shown at Format festival, which returns to the Quad Arts Centre in Derby, England for its ninth edition this March. Under the theme Forever/Now, our edit of notable projects emphasises the festival’s slant towards ‘crooked’ documentary practices, where a lack of subject or search for the unknown is filled by fiction and interpretation.
“Kalidou is 23-years-old and is going blind. I could really see his pain and frustration. Some days, if the sun was too bright, he would not even be able to go outside”
2019 marks a quarter of a century since Val Williams’ curated her seminal exhibition, Who’s looking at the family? at the Barbican in London. In photography, a lot has changed over 25 years, including the introduction of new technologies that have reshaped the way in which we make and consume images, and the changing definitions of what constitutes a photographer.
“On the one hand I thought it might be interesting to speculatively chart that development, but also to rethink notions of the family at the same time,” says Tim Clark, editor of 1000 words magazine and curator of this year’s Photo50 exhibition at London Art Fair. “The idea seemed to chime with a lot of people. I think that’s the key point about family, it’s a great unifying subject. Everyone can relate to it.”
“I felt like I was always playing the same cards. With this project, I wanted to collect the cards and reshuffle them,” says José Pedro Cortes, whose latest book, A Necessary Realism, proposes new ways of seeing old images, gathered from almost 15 years of work and presented in his favourite medium, the photobook.
“The book is always an important moment for me,” says the Portuguese photographer, who is co-founder of the publishing Pierre von Kleist. “They are a mirror into the time I am living in, where I looked for a while in the same area.
“I wanted to fill in the gaps,” he adds. “By trying to break from this idea that images have a connection to a specific geography, and also a specific time, I wanted to take a different look at my archive, as if it were something new.”
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Almost every Saturday between 1978 and 1999, Tom Wood travelled from his home in New Brighton by ferry and bus to Great Homer Street market, just outside Liverpool city centre in the North West of England. He would spend the morning there photographing the mothers and daughters, kids dressed in matching blue and lilac tracksuits, teenagers chatting away with their curly hair swept up into side-ponies, and grandmothers haggling for of a string of pearl necklaces or a second-hand coat. In the afternoon he’d travel on to either Everton or Liverpool football ground, then back on the bus and ferry, taking pictures every step of the way.
”God knows how many photographs I took,” he says. “When I first began photographing in Liverpool I was just overwhelmed by the people and the place. It was an exciting place to be, I fed off the energy there.”
When Michelle Sank approached young people on the streets of Sandwell, asking to take portraits of them in their bedrooms, most were happy to be photographed. It was trickier to negotiate with their parents, who were sceptical for obvious reasons. “I had to explain why it was so important for me to photograph them in their bedrooms,” says Sank. “What’s on their walls is a metaphor for their identity and personality”. My.Self is a collaboration with Multi Story, a local charity that works with artists to make work for and about the people of Sandwell. The charity hadn’t produced any work yet on young people in the Black Country – a name for this region of the British West Midlands believed to have come from the layer soot it was covered with in the Industrial Revolution – so with her past experience of working with young people, Sank decided to make portraits of them in their bedrooms, wearing the clothes, and surrounded by the items, which help to confer their identities. The book is dedicated to …
“You’re always looking for that time where everybody forgets you’re there and becomes themselves. Surprisingly, they do, sometimes to the detriment of what you knew about them,” says Eugene Richards, who has devoted his career to documenting social injustice in America, and injecting himself into intensely personal situations.
Richards’ style is up-close and unflinching, “ironically it’s the process of becoming as not there as you possibly can, if you hang around long enough people don’t care”, he says. Though his photography has been described as poetic and lyrical, he has never thought of himself as an artist. “I went in with some knowledge of photography, but mostly with the idea of providing information,” he says.
Lewis Khan is a London-based photographer and filmmaker specialising in social documentary. Since graduating from UWE in Bristol, where he studied photography, he has won the 2014 Shuffle Film Festival Short Film Prize for his moving portrayal of George, a man living on the fringes of South London. He has also worked on commissions for a number of well-respected publications, including the FT Weekend Magazine. Khan’s photograph that was selected for Portrait of Britain 2017 depicts his subject, Gina, in an operating theatre after performing surgery. The portrait was taken during Khan’s time as Artist in Residence at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. During this residency, he produced a series called ‘Our NHS’, which documented the experiences of staff and patients at the hospital. The images seek to capture the emotional impact of a life spent working in the NHS, particularly during this time of difficulty within the service. Gina’s portrait is a compelling insight into the experiences of the doctors and nurses striving to keep the NHS on its feet. How did you …
“I think politics affects every decision in daily life – it’s hard to remain on the sidelines,” says Musuk Nolte. “For me, photography is a visual element to work on these very complex issues. “With all the problems we have in our country, we have the responsibility to leave a visual document,” continues the photographer, who was born in Mexico in 1988 but is now a naturalised Peruvian.”I felt the desire to leave a document of what was going on, that it could serve as a visual and historical record. It was my way of relating to my country, but it’s important that this work also has an impact outside the community.”