Photography is a solitary profession and that’s why the camaraderie of photo festivals make sense says Sam Harris.
Photography…what is it about this medium that fascinates us so much? There is no doubt that photography is more popular now than ever. No matter the type of photography and its intended use/outlet/platform there is no doubt that photography is a universal language of communication. Just like music, photography transcends spoken language; it can communicate a message, a story, an idea or maybe just a feeling or a mood.
The language of photography is in constant flux, always in evolution. Work that was outrageous in 1971 is now the status quo. Photography is a language we all know (at some level) and yet we can learn to read a photograph much more thoroughly and gain deeper perspectives and a better understanding. Our view is always conditioned by recognition, in fact, we only see what we know. You have to learn to like, don’t you? To look… you don’t look at what you don’t like. You must learn to like as you learn to like a person. And you can unlearn too. Photography is an act of love, it’s magnetic.
Most photographers work in some sort of solitude (no matter their subject or circumstance).
I’ve always found it slightly ironic that a practice that is so very much about communication can be a lonely, isolating enterprise… this is why, for me at least, photography festivals are a great vehicle for bringing us together and stimulating growth.
Over the past ten years there has been a huge increase in photo festivals around the world. They come in all shapes and sizes. I have been fortunate to experience various international festivals either as a participant or as a consumer. Either way they are always stimulating, uplifting, motivating, inspiring, educational and become quite addictive. Why? Well… exhibitions, naturally are at the center of most festivals as well as the magic of slideshows on a large cinema size screen at night with a collective audience. Then there’s the prospect of meeting people, friends old and new and the stimulating conversations; discussions on work seen, sharing of ideas, critiques and feedback… not to mention the fun times and partying (yes, photographers seem to have quite a reputation when they get together).
Usually a popular component of photo festivals will be the ‘in-conversation’ with a featured artist or seminars and debates/panel discussions. They are always so fascinating and insightful; a wonderfully rich way to gain a deeper understanding, to delve into the life journey of a photographer they are consistently educational. Usually I attend as many of these as possible. I’ve learnt, that as well as seeing the artists I am familiar with talking about their work and their experiences, it’s the photographers I know little or nothing of that frequently surprise and delight. This is where the hidden gems can be unearthed. Whilst speaking of education, most festivals have a portfolio review component, which is always an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback on work as well as make valuable industry connections and develop relationships. In fact this element is so popular, so integral to the contemporary up and coming photographer, that there are several very big festivals in the USA that are pretty much dedicated to the portfolio review, such as The Meeting Place at FotoFest, Houston, Texas. Of course networking is another aspect of photo festivals. You never know who you might end up meeting; not only photographers, but also curators, editors and publishers, all of which frequent festivals in search of the next big thing, or at least stimulating, fresh and authentic work.
The Delhi Photo Festival is rich in all these aspects. I consider myself extremely privileged to have attended the inaugural DPF back in 2011. Before arriving I had no idea what to expect. Seeing as it was the first time, I did not have high expectations for the event, just an open mind and a keen interest. I was totally taken aback by my experience. I quickly realized that this was something very special. Not only a gathering for the first time of so many of the greats of Indian photography, but also a wonderfully organized event. The camaraderie, the excitement, the passion… all were palpable and infective.
The night time screen projections were excellently curated and presented. There were many outstanding exhibitions to take in, from photographers around the world, but thinking back… my strongest memories are from the passionate talks and the conversations that they inspired. Who can forget (if you were lucky enough to be present) the wonderful Prabuddha Dasgupta talking with so much passion and authenticity about his ongoing personal diary work. I for one fell in love during that talk. And Sohrab Hura, also so passionate, talking honestly and deeply about his work and his process. Then there was the one and only Pablo Bartholomew and, of course, the great Dayanita Singh… and so many others it’s dangerous to even start listing names because they were all so incredible, so passionate, so dedicated, so insightful and inspiring. All this without the snobbery and the separation that usually accompanies such events. I remember these talks were so well attended, the crowd spilled out the room into the foyer, we were all crammed in sitting on the floor, standing at the back, anywhere one could find a few inches. Audience participation was encouraged. A good thing too. If you were there you’ll remember how passionately involved this all was. Swapan Parekh, for one, was at the front and engaging everyone with questions and comments. This was a truly exceptional event, not only the talks but the whole festival. Delhi Photo Festival exceeded my expectations. It is no doubt a very special festival.
For me personally, India has always had a special place in my heart. I always feel I’m returning home and with the Delhi Photo Festival I have an extended family. I can’t wait for DPF 2015. I hope to see you there!Sam Harris is a British photographer living in Australia. He makes photobooks and runs workshops: http://samharrisphoto.com/. He will be conducting a workshop at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication (a #DPF2015 partner gallery event):
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