Fotofest portfolio reviews come to an end with a blow-out barbecue dance at Houston's Lawndale Art Center with Tex/Mex and Zydeco music by The Stringbenders.

Fotofest Biennial 2012 is what all bienniales are supposed to be, a vast banquet of international exhibitions, lectures, book signings and in this case, reviews of photography portfolios.  I had the good fortune to attend the Houston, Texas-based event as a Portfolio Reviewer in the International Meeting Place (which, like most Portfolio Reviews, is held in a large hotel conference room).   Along with forty-eight fellow curators, editors, gallerists, collectors, publishers, festival and museum directors from fourteen countries, I reviewed in the last of four sessions of the month-long festival.  Each reviewer is appointed fourteen different photographers to meet each of the four days in our session, but on multiple occasions we’re all called upon to take a look at work by photographers who didn’t draw our names in their official lists.  I’ve reviewed in the past for Center Santa Fe, Palm Springs Photo Festival, and the Lucie Foundation’s Month of Photography L.A., but each for only a day or two at a time.  By the end of the trip, I sat with 62 different photographers from all over the world and looked as closely at their work as the twenty-minute sessions allowed.  The goal being to find ways in which to offer support, both directly and indirectly.

The Open Portfolio night had a busy turnout from Houston's dedicated art and photography audience, in spite of a downtown that goes quiet at day's end.

Photographers present their work at many levels.  Some are college art and photography teachers.  Many have extensive exhibition histories. Plenty are only a few years into the process.  Some are in their early twenties and some are in their seventies.  All the work I saw was directed toward fine art with very few crossovers into editorial.   Photographers pay handsomely to participate and it is costly for reviewers as well, so a lot of effort is spent toward making the most of the opportunity.  I do my best to find ways to pull the rabbit out of the hat with each review, attempting to access the work, the artist and every scrap of useful information at my disposal that might assist them in their journey. Occasionally, I come up dry, but I try to give each the focus they deserve.  By the end of each day, and especially at the end of four days, everyone is considerably talked out.  And yet, the talking continues.  Everyone hits verbal and creative walls, but fortified by caffeine and cookies, the process rolls along until everyone is seriously spent and then only barbecue and beer can offer relief.

I took a few snapshots along the way:

Tamara Staples, Leah Sobsey, Cynthia Greig, Andrew Uchin and Sharon Harper, fortified. Sobsey teaches at the University of North Carolina and Harper is an Associate Professor at Harvard. Greig is based in Detroit and along with Uchin, are represented in Los Angeles at DNJ Gallery. New York's Tamara Staples is known for her book entitled "The Fairest Fowl."

Beth Lilly of Atlanta, describes her fascinating narrative-building project, "the Oracle@wifi," to Alexa Becker, Acquisitions Editor at Kehrer Verlag based in Heidleberg, Germany.

The duo of Francoise and Daniel Cartier present their elegant bodies of work which managed to be both historic and exceedingly contemporary.

Blake Gordon with his "Nightwalks" panorama landscapes taken while walking across Austin, Texas. Blake was once good enough to drive his truck and a vintage travel trailer (resembling a canned ham) all the way to Los Angeles. Here he picked up the work from his friend Brent Humphreys' exhibition "Le Tour" at my former gallery and drove it all the way back to Texas.

Jim Leisy of Oregon presents his still-life body of work entitled "Amateur Physics," executed in a combination of digital and Van Dyke Brown printing.

Photographer Ilan Weiss and Stephan De Broyer, Publisher of View Magazine of Brussels.

The vast sky walk in Houston's One Allen Center links one exhibition space to another.

Damion Berger's grand installation of "Black Powder" is included in "Discoveries of the Meeting Place," a large group exhibition of the work of prior participants of the reviews.

"Le Fiac II, Jardin des Tuilleries," 2009, by Damion Berger (74.8 x 55.9, Gelatin Silver).

Erika Diettes installation of "Rio Abajo" explores the tragedy of Colombia's disappeared.

From Erika Diettes' "Rio Abajo."

Houston's historic preservation methods make for strange juxtapositions.

Aside from the oil industry's downtown skyscrapers and a nearby shooting range, a televised scene from an old Conway Twitty performance was a rare sign of southern stereotype.

Ricardo Veira, Director of Pennsylvania's Lehigh University Art Galleries, Ute Noll Director of On Photography & Illustration, Uno Art Space, Stuttgart, and New York/Tokyo photographer Yoko Naito board the tour bus following a stop at Priya Kambli and Julie Blackmon's exhibitions at Houston Center for Photography or HCP .

Houston based photographer Emily Peacock's show at Lawndale Art Center.

Emily Peacock's "You, Me & Diane," is based on the seminal book "Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph." Peacock casts herself in recreating likenesses of the now famous Arbus photographs, including the 1967 "Identical twins, Roselle, N.J."

Emily Peacock as the comic relief version of Arbus' 1966 photograph, "A young man with curlers at home on West 29th Street, N.Y.C."

After art there's BBQ or as they say in the South - meat and three.

Ferit Kuyas of Switzerland via Turkey (right) and a smoking buddy. Kuyas' landscape work is represented in Los Angeles at Stephen Cohen Gallery.

Maggie Blanchard, Director of Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, with Tamara Staples.

Photographer Wendy Sacks (center) getting jiggy. To her left is Diane Evans, Gallery Manager at Vancouver, BC's Presentation House Gallery and Fernando Brito (blue shirt), whose journalistic portraits of drug cartel murder victims delivered a powerful punch.

Allessandra Capodacqua (left), VP of Fondazione Studio Marangoni, Firenze, Italy

Daniel Cartier and Uta Noll with Monika Merva(center). The New York based Merva showed her "City of Children" in the "Discoveries of the Meeting Place" exhibition.

Sometimes a photo festival looks like a barn dance. Krzysztoft Candrowicz, center in plaid, Founding Director, Lodz Art Center, International Festival of Photography, Poland.

Photographer and filmmaker Sarah Martin (left) presented innovative work and a sense of humor in her series on Christian online dating. Leah Sobsey recently finished a residency at the Grand Canyon documenting the Park's extensive botanical collection. Both teach in the Photography Department at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Nancy Barr, Associate Curator at Detroit Institute of the Arts, documents her BBQ brisket platter while architectural landscape photographer Philip Jones of Boston sits just beyond.

Ricardo Viera leads Fotofest volunteers and staff member Sarah Craig in one last line dance.

For more information on the festival which continues with exhibitions through April 29, see http://2012biennial.fotofest.org/.

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