In which I make my way to the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival . . .
Ottawa to Amsterdam by plane. Leave Thursday afternoon, arrive Friday morning. Six hour time difference. They’re ahead.
Amsterdam to Groningen by train.
Walk through drizzle to the Noorderlicht offices where I meet Regina Broersma, who cooly and calmly coordinates the festival. She wrangles a million little and large details, makes the whole thing smooooth.
She takes me down the road and up a flight of steep Dutch stairs to the hotel they have arranged for me. A modest place where 8 or 10 other Noorderlicht exhibitors will be staying. I smile. It’s my kind of place.
Won’t sleep. Walk around Groningen, get a feel. It’s still Friday.
Friday night, thirty six hours without sleep. I crash. Twelve hours later, eight Saturday morning, I get up and bump into David Klammer, who has work in the festival. A funny, enthusiastic guy. He’s here with his friend, Herbert Wiggerman. We go for breakfast. I’ll end up spending a lot of time with these two. Big, eccentric fun.
Back at the hotel David and I trade books. His, FORST, shows the time he has spent in a forest outside Hamburg. A mining company wants to clear those trees so they can dig more. Anarchists and forest-savers are occupying the forest. Putting up a fight. David hangs with them, photographs.
All that took a while. Lunch and then a walk to De Zwarte Doos where my work was hung.
I had sent files of the 27 images in the show. The folks at Noorderlicht would print, frame and hang the work. A scary prospect because you’re never sure how that’s all going to turn out. I enter the building with some trepidation. Please let it look good.
As soon as I saw it I relaxed. No, that’s not exactly right . . . I didn’t relax, I became excited by how great the prints looked and how wonderfully the work had been hung.
I looked at my wall of pictures and couldn’t figure out how they had done it. Each image a block in a puzzle that, somehow, meshed perfectly.
The Dutch are masters of exhibition design and that inventiveness and attention to detail was apparent at all the exhibitions at the festival.
And speaking of design, have a look at the catalogue. The folks at Noorderlicht wanted to make it affordable (in keeping with the theme of the festival this year). Foldable/pocketable newsprint for €5 (less than $7.50). Lots of photos, lots of writing. Context.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get to the opening.
On second thought, I’ll end this here. This is already too much information. You have other stuff to do, right?
Tune in next week when I’ll finally have a look at some of the work exhibited at Noorderlicht . . .
CHRISTINE FITZGERALD AT STUDIO SIXTY SIX
Christine Fitzgerald has been photographing at-risk/threatened species for a while now. Her commitment to this is hard to ignore.
Captive, her new work on display at Studio Sixty Six, shows us parrots.
Parrots are trafficked. Sometimes someone “needs” a parrot and, like a good consumer, they buy one. After a while the thrill is gone so they resell the bird or let it “escape”. As well, like any animals “owned” by humans, a certain amount of abuse and neglect occurs. The lucky (if that’s even the right word) parrots are rescued and rehabilitated. These are the birds that we see here.
The images are shot with a digital camera and then transformed through a number of complicated and labour intensive historical techniques involving glass plates and exotic chemicals and pigments. This results in very beautiful prints. But here the sentimentality, heroic scale and overwrought qualities that infused much of Fitzgerald’s earlier work has been dialed back.
What we see are images that, while romantic, also have a slightly forensic feel. As well, the modest scale of the prints lends them a feeling of intimacy which suits the subject matter. These tweaks to her approach make the images in Captive Fitzgerald’s best photographs yet.
With work like this, though, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between the commodification of a commodity (precious prints of trafficked parrots) and the photographer’s deeper agenda.
At any rate, these images have me thinking and talking about parrots. I suggest you go have a look and draw your own conclusions.