I visited the Brighton Photo Biennial last weekend to take a look at the centrally located exhibitions (there were a few venues outside of Brighton). Regretfully missed the related workshops and symposiums spread over the past two months but in any case was just pleased to make it down before it closed on the 14th November. On the whole, very impressed with Martin Parr’s curatorial selection. He has his critics on a photogratic level, but it cannot be denied that when it comes to the photography of others he has impeccable taste – consistently identifying new and emerging talent, such as Rimaldas Vikstraitis who won the Arles Discovery Award in 2009, and getting the balance of work and artists right.
The central part of this biennial were the three commissioned photographers – Stephen Gill (UK), Alec Soth (USA), and Rinko Kawauchi (JP) – each invited to produce a body of work specifically focused on Brighton. Most interesting of these for me was by Gill who made a special camera within which he could place things (alive and dead) he’d found in and around the city, including of course on the beach. His technique was to drop his objects inside, and then wander round taking photos with the contents superimposed upon the film emulsion. Sounds a bit gimmicky but anyone who knows Gill will be aware how considered he is in his operation and the results were intriguing and certainly felt the most ‘complete’ of the three commissions. Watching a video interview with Soth at the Brighton Museum he talked about how fearful he is of undertaking overseas commissions in case he photographs a whole series of ‘eiffel towers’. Pretty obvious thing to say of course, but his fear was obviously not headed by Kawauchi in her murmaration work based around the phenomenon of the starlings cartwheeling around the west pier each evening. In fact, I’ve just done a quick search on Google images which threw up a large selection of photos very similar to her own. Beware of the the dangers of the exotic I suppose, a symposium around which I’ll be attending this Friday at the Tate Modern. Note: See subsequent Gauguin blog posting.
Other work that particularly stood out Pintados Retratos, the hand-painted studio portraits from the North of Brazil, the Corinthians work of vernacular Kodachrome images taken between 1947-1974 in the US, Vivienne Sassan’s excellent Flamboya (I never got her work in book format but on the wall I certainly did), Suzanne Opton’s powerful Veterans series, and last but not least Ju Duoqi’s Fantasies of Chinese Cabbage! There were some great fringe exhibits as well, including Jason Evans curated Nothing is in the Place and Simon Roberts’ 2010 Election Project.
Overall an enjoyable festival and just a shame it couldn’t have been a bit bigger of the scale of say Photo España. We’re sadly lacking a truly great photo festival here in the UK but Brighton goes someway to filling that gap. Shame it’s only every two years though. And nice to have a festival where photographers are commissioned to produce work in situ. As a medium, photography lends itself well to bespoke work with the ease of which people can mobilise independently over short time frames. And in these tight times I’d personally rather see festival money used for the creation of work than one-off gallery framing or venue modification. Anyway, top marks Martin and the team!