Noorderlicht Photofestival 2009
Every year, Noorderlicht Photofestival showcases a smart, interesting selection of excellent contemporary photography.
The focus this year is on unseen conflict — the battles that stay hidden from the eyes of the world, that end up as footnotes to history, or even ignored altogether. It's intense stuff.
In a new departure for the festival, Noorderlicht asked five guest curators to reveal their personal vision on the theme of "conflict": Stuart Franklin, Lauren Heinz, Simon Njami, Marc Prüst and Bas Vroege. Their diverse photographic choices take us to varied types of conflict, and provide commentary on developments in the evolution of engaged, narrative documentary photography.
Magnum chairman Stuart Franklin provides the most harrowing contribution, with photographs from the recent Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. Throughout the 22-day conflict, the international press was refused permission to enter the region. Franklin travelled to Gaza and interviewed the Palestinian photographers who documented the unfolding events. "Point of No Return" shows their work: without reservation, Franklin takes a stand for the victims against the disproportionate violence of one of the world’s best-equipped armies. The results are confrontational and often heart-rending. (At the last minute, AP, who provided some of the photos, refused to allow Franklin's personal essay to accompany the exhibition. You can find his censored text here.)
Foto8 editor Lauren Heinz provides a selection that questions whether the classic form of documentary photography is really our best guarantee of getting a truthful picture of conflict situations. In "Closing In", she selected work that does not try to mask the passion and rage of the makers.
In "Ordinary Pain" Simon Njami, founder of the cultural journal Revue Noir and director of the Bamako photography festival, takes a stand against the transitory media landscape. In the media, he argues, there is no time for analysis, and too little attention for drama that is not visually "sexy". "Ordinary Pain" tells the stories of ordinary people who have sought to build a dignified existence under difficult circumstances.
In collaboration with the French photo bureau Agence VU’, freelance curator Marc Prüst assembled "Lost", in which the central struggle is that of an individual within a society that rejects him. This struggle manifests in many ways: in attempts to assimilate through changing oneself, in a fight to bring society to the point of acceptance, or in escape into intoxicants, self-destruction or luxury when the energy for (or faith in) change is gone.
When Julian Germain published his book "Steelworks" in 1990, he combined his own work with that of local news photographers, variety snapshots and forms of journalistic reporting. Bas Vroege, director of Paradox and instructor at MA Photographic Studies, gathered more examples of this sort of "post-modern visual history writing": long-term projects in which the photographer, is simultaneously artist, editor, curator and researcher.
In addition to the guest curators' contributions, Noorderlicht creator Wim Melis offers "War Machines" and "The Pursuit of Happiness". In an intriguing exhibition, Simon Norfolk, Peter Voigt and Gabriel Jones each in their own way isolate tanks, aircraft and rockets from their raison d’être. What meaning, what
significance do they have when they fall into disuse?
Noorderlicht is tough and heavy this year, but it fills a void by examining these important, timely issues with selections offering depth, emotion and impact.
The Noorderlicht Photofestival takes place in Groningen, Netherlands from 6 September - 4 October 2009.