Afterthoughts

When people come together for professional conferences, it gives them a chance to meet with colleagues and share ideas. SPOT invited a number of people participating in different aspects of FotoFest to jot down some ideas they had about the medium of photography after spending a few day immersed in the field.

Maybe the dimly lit, black Styrofoam hallway with its carved sperm motifs made me squirm because I just finished curating an AIDS exhibition project. Maybe the point of the Stonehenge rotunda – sparsely populated with tired, hot-dog-eating people – went right over my head. I don’t know. What I do know is:
- that exhibitions from Italy, Chile, and Spain were, for me, the most interesting
- that I was glad to participate in a publications conference that was useful for its attendees
- that I was glad to see friends and colleagues and azaleas in bloom
- that I was sad to leave, picture-junkie that I am, feeling that I had seen too many photographs that were disengaged from issues that make photography, communication, and our lives so thorny and interesting.

Marvin Heiferman
Curator, New York City

I saw work by more foreign people than last time. I ate crayfish for the first time (not the heads). I met an excited Polish man whose superimposed pictures made Nancy Burson’s and mine look like kindergarten stuff. I didn’t have time (my fault) to see any exhibitions. I saw some remarkable color photographs (by Patricia Schwarz) of corpulent middle age women posing (for the most part, nude) in classic styles. It was the first absolutely fresh idea I’ve seen in some time. All in all, it was worth the visit. I almost went to the wrong airport.

Robert Heinecken
Artist, Chicago/Los Angeles

Now that FotoFest ’90 is gone, I’m haunted by a cry that echoed throughout the Meeting Place. “I didn’t come here to have my work critiqued.” Does that mean they came to the Meeting Place only to have their work praised, purchased, and published? Is there nothing more to be gained or learned? This attitude may be attributed to FotoFest’s greatest success – the Meeting Place. In an attempt to encourage and support, we may have sacrificed growth, direction, and the learning experience. The number of photographers and teachers as reviewers was limited to allow a greater percentage of curators, collectors, critics, and publishers. We exchanged the opportunity of self-discovery for the business of being discovered. What is needed to complement this direction is a second space, less structured, more informal. A place where work and ideas are eagerly and generously shared by all. FotoFest is still in its infancy. We are learning from our mistakes and building on our successes. I can’t wait for FotoFest ‘92.

George Krause
Artist, Houston

The overwhelming variety of exhibitions demonstrated that anything goes in photography today. I find this healthy. The lack of rules about what is and what is not photography means that each group of pictures must stand on its own. For me, FotoFest was one of the nicest of times. I saw collections of photographs that I have not seen before. I was especially impressed with the work of Cristina Garcia Rodero and Keith Carter. I had a chance to get to know other curators of photography whom I had long admired – curators like Anne Tucker and Colin Westerbeck. I also saw old friends like Buzz Hartshorn and Francis Fralin.

Barbara Norfleet
Artist, Senior Lecturer and Curator, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

I was quite surprised by the book dummies and projects that I saw – surprised by the level of commitment to the various projects, by the elaborate and very well done presentation of proposal, and by the amount of time and thought that people had put into their projects. Photography publishing is thriving – because there is so much talent and good material to publish – but it is still surprisingly difficult to publish photography books profitably. Thank goodness for nonprofit organizations.

Dana Asbury
Editor of art and photography books at the University of New Mexico Press

After full immersion in the ociean of photographic exhibitions, lectures, and portfolios at FotoFest, I am taken by the insistent homogenization of this growing subset of the art world. All of us, Portuguese, British, French, Bulgarian, German, Japanese, Austrian, Australian, Canadian, Dane, Swede, Finn, Italian, Greek, and even Texas are now capable of producing images identically, antiseptically, and homogenously presented – sans accent – of the world looking poetically gritty and “real” – or we can all offer the same large, montaged, cut and stained “art speak.” It is as though the doors of opportunity are open to only a couple of classifications of material. I leave – foot and eye sore – wondering how one begins to emerge from the overwrought, over ambitious, overtly hungry mass of photographers. Yet, once again, out of the chaos, one or two are remembered – come through like a clear sound and distinguish themselves with an economy of elegance… a few images embossed on my memory – images more wise than clever, images that are “something,” rather than images “about” something. These rewards, celestial thanks, this time, I feel, were earned.

Arthur Ollman
Director, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA.

This concerns only the George R. Brown Convention Center / FotoFest ’90: Over exposure… too much… I don’t see how it ever happens… it might be the biggest… so why not try next time for the most unique… the very best ever… editing could cause more complaints, but perhaps more could be gained, learned, studied, etc… When I found myself looking instead of seeing I had to leave. I can remember having seen and wanting to see again… the Czech work (Zdenek Lhotak’s “Spartakiada ‘85”), Phillip Jones Griffiths, several Raymond Moore pieces, Cristina Garcia Rodero… and always Walker Evans and Eugene Smith for history. I congratulate the courage and work of those who made this all happen… I just think it needs to be leaner, needs more clarification, and needs unique exhibits and work.

Charles Schorre
Artist, Houston

One evening a young woman drove several of us to a party where a Houston couple opened their doors to over one hundred strangers. She had been driving participants from around the country and world to parties for nearly a month, and she was but one of several hundred volunteers. Later that night I returned in a different car with three somewhat besotten photographiles from three different countries. We compared, at some length, how our languages render the sound a rooster makes. In Houston there was a palpable sense of communities forming and pulling together toward common objectives. This makes FotoFest unique in photography and a rare phenomenon most anywhere in our hyper-real realms. Witnessing this spirit close up was even more exciting than seeing the acres of photographs that were our common focus. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

David L. Jacobs
Formerly Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Arlington
Currently Chairperson of the University of Houston Art Department

“Photo-inflation” as a contemporary described in the situation in Germany in 1929. That’s what’s going on today. And I’m uneasy about it. Maybe it’s good for the field overall, but… “Is there any substance behind the hype?”

Nancy Barret
Curator of Photographs, New Orleans Museum of Art

FOTOFEST ‘90
The surface benefits of events such as FotoFest – the opportunity to see very large numbers of photographs in a compressed period of time, and the chance to make or renew contacts in the field – are obvious. But other, more intense interchanges give greater insight to the complex of personalities and attitudes that make up photography today. As a panelist at the Publishing Symposium who served as one of the final judges for the FotoFest Book Award, it was intriguing to see how five completely disparate points of view about what a books should be could arrive at a consensus opinion. It was a difficult and thoroughly discussed decision, but in the process we all leaned more about the concepts that constitute our medium.

David Featherstone
Former Director of Publications, The Friends of Photography

The 1990 FotoFest shows the high level of maturity and sophistication the festival has reached. I was very impressed by the scope and varied character of the exhibitions. There is no other place where it is possible to be exposed to this level of international work.

Elizabeth Glassman
Formerly of Glassman & Associates, Houston
Currently President, The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

A post-mortem of FotoFest is of uncertain value, like detailing the neuroses and excesses of a past marriage. Nonetheless, without question what FotoFest is very good at is bringing photo-people together, sometimes even to look at and discuss photographs. As a social event it clearly has its serious cultural side – it educates and facilitates. But concerning the logistics of the exhibitions and the surfeit of pictures, it’s back to the drawing board for 1992. And – Styrofoam should be banished from the planet, immediately, lest the Druid priestesses set a curse upon us.

Ed Hill and Suzanna Bloom are professors of art at the University of Houston. They work as artists under the name MANUAL and frequently write articles and reviews for SPOT and Artforum.

A couple of FotoFest incidents come to mind: the first had to do with looking at portfolios. I was reviewing a Belgian photographer’s work (Michael Papeliers) and had some difficulty understanding what he was saying about it. It was a group of portraits of factory workers – generally third world and south Europeans, some nice stuff, but I had no idea what he was saying because his Belgian English and my American French were of about the same quality. We couldn’t communicate at all. He looked behind him kind of wildly and grabbed this Guatamalan photographer who for some reason spoke both French and English fluently. And he translated for us. It was a genuinely nice family of man international moment. FotoFest seems to be comprised of hundreds of such moments – people talking about and around photographs any way they can. The best thing about it for me as a teacher is the incredible resource it brings to classes. Seeing actual prints is much more tangible for students than slides of reproductions. Students get the idea that they could actually make that themselves. I usually notice the effects of FotoFest the following fall. Kids have had a chance to think about what they’ve seen over the summer and often come up with some sort of off-shoot that they want to talk about. It’s also helpful to me. It’s a major evaluation of my work, and a lot of talking and a lot of looking at new work that often sparks new ideas. It’s also a time to review old favorites. I’ve always been very moved by Josef Koudelka’s work, but had never seen more than a few images in a show. Again, books are one thing as a show is another. Seeing those photographs and the way he’s printed them pushes me to take out a 35mm camera and black & white film for the first time in quite a while. And all my Rice students had a great time looking at and talking about George Krause’s show.

Peter Brown
Artist, Assistant Professor, Rice University, Houston, TX

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