Virginie Rebetez is a photographer preoccupied by absence. Her work explores themes around disappearance, loss and death, her subjects often physically absent or removed from the projects that depict them. Such is the case with Out of the Blue, which centres around the unresolved disappearance of Suzanne Gloria Lyall, who went missing in 1998 at the age of 19, in Albany, upstate New York. Out of the Blue was published last year by Meta/Books, and is showing in Mutable/Multiple at Quad during Format.
Lyall has never been found but traces of her remain even now, more than 20 years later. “Photography has this relationship with traces but also with proof and reality,” explains Rebetez, whose work attempts to make concrete something unthinkable, this vacuum, by becoming acquainted with Suzanne and her life in her absence. “It’s really interesting to work on something invisible with photography because somehow it gives something material to that which is not present,” she says.
“A festival is about taking risks,” says Louise Clements, founder and director of Format International Photography Festival, which returns this year to celebrate its ninth edition. “Festivals can come and go, but to sustain something for so many years, you have to work out how to make it valuable for its participants and its audience, by giving people something to work towards.”
The city of Derby, in the UK’s post-industrial Midlands, is not large, but over the last 15 years the biennial event has helped place it on the cultural map. Over the course of each festival some 100,000 visitors will gather there – the city’s compact size lending it some advantages. “Derby is small, like Arles [whose 50-year-old Rencontres photography festival remains the blueprint], so there is this critical mass-like feeling,” says Clements. “People are likely to bump into each other, see our bags and totes – the guides see and integrate them, for example, when we work with the local microbreweries.”
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.
Derby is a small British city but once every two years it hosts a big event – the FORMAT Festival. Directed by the well-respected photography specialist Louise Fedotov-Clements and running since 2004, FORMAT has established a firm reputation for interesting international work, and FORMAT19 looks set to continue the good work with exhibitions spread across both Derby and another neighbouring city, Nottingham. Taking place next spring, FORMAT19 is themed FOREVER/NOW and takes on an interesting contemporary question – the role of documentary photography.
“In 2007, while the photography world was still grappling with the idea of photography as an interpretive, non-narrative, non-representational medium, writer Lucy Soutter wrote about the ‘expressive’ versus the ‘straight’ documentary photograph, insightfully characterising the then two sides of the debate,” runs the FORMAT19 press material.
“Since then photography has grown to encompass many manifestations of the ‘crooked’ image through hybrid forms and visual practises and no longer worries about narrative versus abstraction, expressive versus objective. The new generation of photographic artists rush towards the new, embracing the rapid transformation that technology and cultural exchanges bring to it.”
Before becoming a photographer, Sean Hillen was a tinkerer. As a young teenager, one of his favourite pastimes was to take apart his grandfather’s old cameras and then piece them back together again. It wasn’t long before he discovered that with a bit of tweaking he could fix a brand new 120 roll of film into an outmoded 620 camera. “I did that, I got them developed, and I was immediately addicted to photography”.
Hillen grew up through the Troubles in Newry, Northern Ireland, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. “It was utter chaos,” he says. “I knew people who got killed, and I knew people who killed other people”. Hillen and his four siblings would lie awake in bed at night listening to gun battles, which were so frequent that they were able to distinguish between the sounds of different weapons.
Peter James was an instrumental figure in British photography, establishing an outstanding collection of photography at the Library of Birmingham over his 26-year career at the institution, and researching and curating exhibitions at the V&A, National Portrait Gallery, Somerset House, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Ikon Galley, the Library of Birmingham, and many more. He was also a modest and affable man, universally known as Pete and as at home over a curry as in a lecture hall delivering an academic paper. As Hilary Roberts, research curator at the Imperial War Museum, put it in a tribute on James’ Facebook page: “Pete has been a wonderful friend and exceptional colleague for more years than I can remember. His contribution to the world of photography cannot be overstated. It was a privilege to work with him and I will miss him more than I can say.”
In the late 1980s, while studying, David Moore made a series of colour photographs depicting the everyday lives of working class communities in Derby. In Pictures From the Real World, since published as a book by Dewi Lewis, we meet married couple Lisa and John, among others. Intrigued by the notion of returning photographs to the contexts from which they came, Moore had the idea for a new imagining of the work as a piece of verbatim theatre (drama derived from unedited spoken transcripts), through which the photographs could be ‘returned’ to the couple. Moore invited Lisa and her now ex-husband John to work with him on what he calls an “archive intervention” – to create new dialogues from the photographs. From this The Lisa and John Slideshow was born, a 45-minute play written and directed by Moore, assisted by Gavin Dent, where actors played the couple.
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It’s illegal, and a tradition that puts women at great risk, but despite this has been normalised, accepted and passed down through generations. In parts of Nepal, a practice called Chhaupadi dictates that women who are menstruating, and those who experience bleeding after childbirth, must live in makeshift huts because they are considered impure and therefore untouchable. Exiled by their communities and families, the women are refused access to water and toilets and must eat food scraps, fed to them as though they were animals. They are exposed in every sense, vulnerable to rape, abduction and assault, and even death from asphyxiation caused by the fires they are forced to light in their tiny, inadequately ventilated huts. In 2013, photojournalist Poulomi Basu travelled to Surkhet District in a remote region of Nepal to meet and photograph some of these women, assisted on the ground by the charity WaterAid. Appalled and outraged by what she saw, she vowed to return. “The first trip was so short and I was frustrated because I realised the scale of …
In August of 2016, at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, one of the world’s leading scientists declared we were living at the dawn of a new geological epoch – the human-influenced age. This new era, termed Anthropocene, replaces the current epoch, the Holocene, the 12,000 years of stable climate since during which all human civilisation developed. Format International Photography Festival in Derby, the UK’s largest photography festival, opened this weekend for its eighth edition, aiming to explore this notion of the Anthropocene by asking photographers to respond to the word “habitat”. Featuring more than 200 international artists and photographers across 30 exhibitions, the biennial is situated across independent cinema and exhibition spaces such as Quad, University of Derby and the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. The festival’s flagship exhibition, titled Ahead Still Lies Our Future, is on show at art space Derby Quad, and features work by ten photographers, brought together by curators Hester Keijser and festival director Louise Clements. “I wanted to offer up experiences concerning the complexity of our existence on …