Focus on FOTOFEST 2010 BIENNIAL

FotoFest, a non-profit organization in Houston, transforms the city every two years with a month devoted to photography. The event is multi-faceted: FotoFest curates several thematic shows and exhibits photography at more than 150 participating spaces, including HCP. Hundreds of photographers take part in portfolio reviews and workshops at the Meeting Place. The upcoming FotoFest Biennial launches on March 12, 2010.

HCP's Madeline Yale conversed with FotoFest co-founder and Artistic Director Wendy Watriss to learn a bit more about the 2010 event.

Madeline Yale: The theme of Contemporary U.S. Photography is an interesting choice, especially in consideration of the previous Biennial theme China and the international caliber of artists, reviewers, and photography enthusiasts drawn to the event. Why did you select this theme?

Wendy Watriss: Since the 1930s and particularly after World War II, U.S. artists employing photography (or artists from abroad living in the U.S.) have had a global impact in the field. In the context of world history, I would describe the U.S. as a rich and relatively recent hybrid culture that has been shaped by a very particular history and set of political, cultural, and economic circumstances. Not surprisingly, artistic forms of expression in the U.S. have developed particular characteristics, and these characteristics have found a good platform in photography. At a time when there is renewed interest in the politics and culture of the U.S., it seems appropriate to look at one of best known forms of cultural expression in the U.S.

MY: You've done something different this Biennial by inviting several curators to curate four central FotoFest shows. Can you tell us how you arrived at that decision and can you give us a sneak preview of what we will see?

WW:Most of the Biennials since 1992 have been conceived and curated by FotoFest's founders, myself and Fred Baldwin, in consultation with FotoFest's Art Board. During this time, we have shown individual exhibitions done by outside curators and we have commissioned new works by artists, but 2010 is the first time we have dedicated the central part of the Biennial entirely to outside curators.

The decision to do this is based on two factors. From the beginning, programs were designed to provide a platform for the discovery of important but little known artists. At the same time, we wanted to give more visibility to curators and curatorship. Why? Because curators are so important in determining what art work, and which artists, gain public visibility and recognition.

The invited curators are: Gilbert Vicario, Curator of the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa and former Assistant Curator of Latin American Art and Latino Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Charlotte Cotton, Creative Director for London Galleries at the National Media Museum in the U.K., and Associate Curator Edward Robertson at Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Natasha Egan, Associate Director and Curator, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago; Aaron Schuman, editor and co-founder of Seesaw, an avant-garde online journal of photography, and an independent curator and critic with a strong commitment to U.S. photography. Together, they represent some of the leading voices in contemporary photographic art today and they will bring a cross-cultural perspective to the Biennial.

Curators were asked to choose U.S.-born artists or U.S.-based artists whose careers have taken shape in the mid- to late- 1990s or later and are still producing strong work. The curators' four exhibitions explore the emergence of a vernacular "language" in U.S. photography as it looks at urban and rural U.S. culture and different kinds of relationships between people; the character of regional culture and how it is manifest in the work of younger Southern California artists; and how contemporary photography is intertwined with performance, video, and digital animation.

MY: One of my favorite shows during the Biennial is the Discoveries of the Meeting Place. Can you tell us how the selections are made and any bodies of work you would like to mention?

WW: Perhaps it's one of your favorite shows because it is always serendipitous and unpredictable. We started Discoveries of the Meeting Place in 1996 to amplify the opportunities that the Meeting Place portfolio reviews offer participating artists. Each biennial we ask 10 reviewers from the Meeting Place to select one to three artists they have "discovered" at the Meeting Place and find particularly interesting. The 2010 Discoveries of the Meeting Place is very diverse. Among the 10 artists, some artists are working with documentary subjects related to war and human rights, and others focus on the aesthetics of objects, their form and function.

MY: There are several interesting symposia and workshops during the Biennial. Can you tell us about them?

WW: Thank you for asking. I think the Workshops and the Curatorial Forums will be interesting for everyone. The Workshops focus on new online media and how to get the most out of it. The first Workshop, Beyond Print, How to Get Your Work to the Global Art Market on March 16, looks at the latest online media tools. The second Workshop, Multi-media Storytelling - Narrative and Conceptual Art on March 21, is led by internationally known multiĀ­media expert Brian Storm, Emmy award winner and founder of Media Storm. Both workshops will offer discounted fees to HCP members for $50.
The Curatorial Forums are free and examine curatorial practices and the role of curators in determining what art we see and why. The first, Curating Contemporary Photography, will be held March 28. The second, Curating Contemporary Art in Texas, on April 8, will look at curatorial practice in Texas, linking photography to other visual art forms.

MY: Wendy, I look forward to joining the festivities in March 2010! In the meantime, watch for updated information on www.fotofest.org.

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