“When I started making Happy Valley, I was still struggling with the hangover of growing up there,” says Eva O’Leary of the series, which stems from the photographer’s experience of growing up in a town entrenched in many destructive aspects of American culture. “I realised that a lot of the things I had internalised as normal were actually toxic.” Happy Valley is the nickname for State College, a town in Pennsylvania. Its identity largely rests on being home to Penn State University, “one of America’s biggest party schools,” says O’Leary. Happy Valley is a slogan, almost a command, given by the university and emblazoned on t-shirts and merchandise, but there is a dichotomy between the idea of Happy Valley and the reality of the place. “The projected image is of a small American, sporty, wholesome town,” explains O’Leary. “People see it as this place of eternal youth where nothing bad ever happens, because everyone there is a student and it’s very isolated.” Growing up in Happy Valley, however, proved very different. “Like a lot of America, …
It’s six years since the inaugural edition of Unseen Amsterdam arrived with the mission to shake up the art fair model, focusing on emerging photographers and collectors, and instilling a welcome dose of fun to proceedings. And despite its beginnings during difficult times for arts funding, the ‘fair with a festival flair’ has largely succeeded, developing into something more ambitious than a glorified trade show, with its own public programme and a city-wide celebration of the medium in one of the world’s great photography capitals.
The emphasis remains on championing new talent, and with this in mind, the latest addition to Unseen is Futures, a cross-European photography platform bringing together 10 cultural institutions from around the continent, each with their own talent programmes.
“The whole jury was in agreement that Eva has a very strong vision and that her work is characterised by a consistency both in aesthetic and content, since the concepts explored are the hot topics of our contemporary society,” says Alessia Glaviano, senior photo editor on Vogue Italia and member of the Hyères Festival photography jury this year – which has awarded the grand prix to Eva O’Leary. The New York-based photographer has won with a series called Spitting Image, which shows American girls aged 11 to 14 photographed while looking at themselves in a mirror. A project involving both photographs and videos, Spitting Image shows both the girls’ discomfort with being put in front of the lens, and the ways in which they – and others – present themselves for the camera.
It’s one of the most interesting prizes for emerging photography, with previous winners including Sølve Sundsbo, Anouk Kruithof, and Lorenzo Vitturi – it’s the Grand prix du jury photographie at the International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories in Hyères and the 2018 finalists are: Eva O’Leary (Ireland, USA), Teresa Eng (Canada), Pascale Arnaud (France), Laetitia Bica (Belgium), Sarah Mei Herman (Netherlands), Allyssa Heuse (Philippines, France), Jaakko Kahilaniemi (Finland), Csilla Klenyánszki (Hungary), Sanna Lehto (Finland), and Aurélie Scouarnec (France). The ten shortlisted photographers will present their work at a group show at the Villa Noailles from 26 April-27 May; the winner will be announced during the festival, which takes place from 26-30 April.