In 2015, for its first edition, GoaPhoto occupied a very different conceptual framework. The international photo festival was devised to take place in public spaces using large formats, with the intention of interacting with the storied heritage of Panjim, the capital city of Goa. While the curatorial team of Spanish photographer Frank Kalero, Indian photographer Ishan Tankha and Goa-based editor and curator Lola Mac Dougall were thrilled with the success and scale of their debut festival, they did encounter certain restrictions in this frame.
“We found that it privileged certain ways of looking at photographs, it defined the type of photography that could be shown—there are photographic projects and pursuits that simply don’t work in large formats, and others that are of a sensitive nature and couldn’t be showcased in public spaces,” explains Mac Dougall. “We also felt that maintaining this scale and continued commitment couldn’t be done without the support of the state government, which was really missing, and didn’t seem forthcoming at the time,” she adds.
How then could GoaPhoto evolve differently for the future? How could it go on in another way? It started off as a joke over a lunch between photographers: let’s domesticate photography! On further interrogating that idea, they realized that it had a lot of potential. “It suddenly made sense for a number of reasons. On the personal level, we live here. We inhabit these houses, we visit other people’s houses, and we’re constantly in contact with this atmosphere, these objects,” says Mac Dougall.
At the festival level, it was translated into their second edition, which took place in 2017. “We settled upon putting together a festival that allowed us to generate or showcase works that were in dialogue with interior spaces. And to resonate with this move, they left the capital city for the more idyllic but equally historic environs of Saligao, a village in North Goa.
“The originality of our proposal is that photography doesn’t always come first. Sometimes, the photographic work is exhibited as responses to the spaces presented to us,” she tells us. “For example, in Saligao’s Quinta Serena—a house built in 1835—there was a room with an iron wrought bed. It was very special as a space. I thought, I wouldn’t do anything with this room unless I found the right body of work to make it, to highlight it. And finally, Elisa Gonzales Miralles’s Wannabe, a work of Japanese dolls and Japanese women who imitate the aesthetic of the dolls came to me. In this series of portraits, sometimes you can’t tell who is the doll and who is the person,” she says. “In this manner, the final exhibitions at the festival have nothing to do with the ‘white cube’ of the gallery space. We also welcome these kinds of explorations of the interior and of interiority.”
And turning inwards—a major theme of GoaPhoto—didn’t just change the way one experienced the festival: it began to dictate the curation of the works as well. “We thought that it would make sense to deal with photography that had some relationship with the private, the interior, the domestic and even voyeuristic impulses, which was important because it is reflected in the way that the festival is experienced because one walks through these ancient private homes of the residents,” Mac Dougall points out.
For the 2019 edition, which takes place between December 6-8, Akshay Mahajan, a Goa-based photographer, curator and writer has come on-board to share curation with Mac Dougall. This time the festival takes place in Aldona, another lovely village in North Goa, where its previous themes have been further fine-tuned through three propositions.
GoaPhoto will continue its exploration of the private and the domestic through a series of intimate projects including the psychological self-portraits of Indian photographer Pamela Singh taken in the village of Loutolim in South Goa, Mexican photographer Tania Franco Klein’s images which employs the feminine body to change the narrative of the American Dream, and the work of Swiss artist Anne Golaz, who will do a performative reading alongside a projection of twelve years of capturing her rural farm where she grew up. Other projects reflect on different traditions and iterations of home such as Ricardo Cases’ Dove Into The Air looks at the tradition of pigeon racing around his hometown, a woman’s metamorphosis into an itinerant house in Shivani Gupta’s Girl in a House and Edgar Martins’ What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase speaks to the fictive tension between round-the-clock surveillance of prisoners and the absence of these very persons from their homes.
The theme of food and photography is another key ingredient of this year’s festival. In Austrian photographer Simon Bruegner’s The Arsenic Eaters, the polarization between food and poison is reframed by looking at the historical practice of arsenic consumption in Eastern Austria. Indian visual artist and ethnographer Rajyashri Goody’s Eat with Great Delight, a collection of her own family photographs showing joyful enjoyment of meals will also be exhibited in the same space.
Through a series of personal images, Rajyashri Goody seeks to undercut the narratives surrounding food and caste in India. Anshika Varma—Indian photographer, curator and artist—is the final response under the umbrella of this theme. She will showcase photographic works that stem from her curiosity in food and recipe books. At a parallel event that hints at this theme, The Edible Archives—a gastronomic project that sits at the intersection of food, memory and art—will host a farm-to-table communal meal using produce from Condillac Farm in Aldona.
A continuation of co-curator Akshay Mahajan’s own personal passion with vernacular photography and its history in Goa has found a home in this edition. Mahajan collaborated with anthropologist Pedro Manuel Sobral Pombo of the Goa University to research personal narratives of people from Aldona, collect family photos and memorabilia, and engaged with them in two ways.
“Part of it is interpreted in a very ‘museum way’ where we look at these oral histories and find a way to illustrate them. The other part will involve myself and Portuguese artist Angela Berlinde, who will interpret sections of this collected archive to create new artwork that culminates in the exhibition, Aldona Through Family Eyes,” Mahajan explains. Portuguese artist Ana Janeiro and Brazilian photographer Helena Martins Costa will also showcase everyday photography sourced from their respective countries under this theme.
In its latest avatar, curators of GoaPhoto Lola Mac Dougall and Akshay Mahajan continue to find ways to turn the lens towards the inner spaces of our homes and hearts. And situating itself in these villages, the festival invites participants to return, reflect and reminisce but also revise the certain easy narratives that cloud our modern minds. In choosing charm and history over glamour, GoaPhoto help us find our bearings of the past, and still make sense of our collective present.
Editor’s note: The 2019 edition of GoaPhoto will run from the 6th to 8th of December in Aldona, Goa. You can find out more about the program of events at the festival website.