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.”
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.”
“Asselin’s Monsanto® is a courageous, investigative project that connects evidence-driven photography and visual research to the democratisation of knowledge; it’s important that this book exists in physical form, as a document, and not just in the virtual world,” says Cristiano Raimondi of Mathieu Asselin’s photobook Monsanto®. A Photographic Investigation. Raimondi is head of development and international projects at the New National Museum of Monaco and an invited curator for Platform 2017 at this year’s Paris Photo, but he’s speaking as a jury member for the 2017 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards because Asselin’s book has just won the prestigious First PhotoBook prize.
Established in 2012, the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards are divided into three categories – PhotoBook of the Year, First PhotoBook, and Photography Catalogue of the Year. The winners will be announced on 10 November at Paris Photo, and all the shortlisted and winning titles will be profiled in The PhotoBook review and exhibited at Paris Photo, the Aperture Gallery in New York, and at other international venues. The year Albert Elm’s What Sort of Life is This, Mathieu Asselin’s Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation and the group book project Amplitude No.1, which is edited by Nadya Sheremetova and includes photographers such as Irina Yulieva, Igor Samolet and Irina Ivannikova, were among those to make the First PhotoBook shortlist this year
“The project is about the traces the ‘invisible world’ leaves on our world,” says 36-year-old Virginie Rebetez. “I don’t like the word ‘witchcraft’ – it has bad connotations. In Europe, we are afraid of people who communicate with the invisible world, but there are many ways of explaining events. I am also fascinated by the South African imagery that relates to this world of ‘spirits’ and the way in which characters and animals feature in rituals.” Born in Lausanne, Rebetez worked on the project two years ago during a four-month residency in South Africa organised by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council. “I’m interested in the invisible world in general – how we communicate with it, what it is and so on. Johannesburg is not an easy place to arrive and work in by yourself, especially if you are white and working on this kind of subject. But through the residency I met people who helped me.” Rebetez, one of 10 emerging photographers selected to exhibit at last year’s Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography, met with experts in …