TAXED TO THE MAX was the title of this year’s iteration of the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival. The rather jaunty subtitle being: “ . . . at least you are not afraid to live life on the brink of chaos“.

And that, in my opinion, is the best kind of subtitle. Cryptic with multiple meanings. Make of it what you will.

I couldn’t see it all. Too many events, too much socializing, not enough time. But the breadth of subject matter, and the photographers’ approach to that matter, was breathtaking.

Below you will see a bit of what I saw. This is not a “best of” list, merely some of what I noted . . .

The idea behind the festival was pointed enough: “The 26th edition of the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival examines the social tensions that international mega corporations create with their enormous accumulation of capital and influence on national and global politics. How does this affect the lives of ordinary people?

Good question.

The festival provided some answers . . .

The traditional way of living of the Khanty, an indigenous nomadic people in Western Siberia, is severely threatened by the pollution of the oil and gas industry. Igor Tereshkov documents this and then processes his film with leaked oil from the region. You can feel it.

Installation view and 3 images from Oil and Moss. ©Igor Tereshkov

With Overflow, Martin Leuvrey addresses the visual aspects of hyper capitalism and its self destructive plethora of technology and artifacts. The images were shot in urban places of transit, special economic zones, etc.

Installation views and 2 images from Overflow. ©Martin Leuvrey

Embroidered bankers. In an effort to break the hyper constructed image of the financial world Lana Mesic interviewed London bankers and translated snapshots of them into embroidered portraits.

Installation view and 2 images from Souls, Ties and a Pile of Carrots. ©Lana Mesic

Keijiro Kai records testosterone-fuelled festivals around the world. Here we see ritual fistfights in Bolivia and a Japanese fire-starter festival.

Installation views. Kaijiro Kai.

In Agreement, by Brigitte de Langen, shows the original, signed, final versions of a selection of trade agreements that the EU closed with other parties. Looking at the covers you can see some of the text and signatures inside, but you have to imagine what is contained within. Except there’s also an audio component with parts of the agreements, read out in different languages. Nevertheless . . . the words are almost incomprehensible to the average person.

Installation views and 2 images from In Agreement. ©Brigitte da Langen

Cryptocurrency is immaterial in itself but needs powerful material infrastructure to exist. With The Flood, Ivar Veermäe investigates crypto-money and its mining and energy needs using documentary images and simulated 3D objects on video.

Installation views and video stills from The Flood. Ivar Veermäe

Then I bumped into David Klammer (who, smart guy, had brought his bike with him from Cologne). We made our way to Fotogalerie Lichtzone, a cool photographer-run cooperative space in Groningen, to see his exhibition.

There were huge images stuck to the wall, surrounded by some of the battlements and debris from the site where he shot these images, which showed aspects of the lives of the occupants of Hambach Forest, west of Cologne. Since 2012 the forest has been occupied by anarchists and forest-savers who are trying to protect it from the energy company RWE, which wants to expand their open-pit operation into the forest.

Completely tired I made my way back to the hotel for a lay-down. The next morning I would leave for Amsterdam and Den Haag.

Next week I’ll have a bit about my trip to The Royal Academy of Art and some final thoughts on the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival.

(Need more Noorderlicht info? Just scroll down and keep reading.)


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.

Airplane, Amsterdam

Amsterdam to Groningen by train.

Dutch countryside

Arrive Groningen.

Groningen Station

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.

My room
The view from the roof

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.

David Klammer at breakfast

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.

David showing Herbert the dummy of his book. Below, a small version of FORST.

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.

Here are a couple of examples: Photographs by (top) Marvin Leuvrey, at the Oude Conservatorium and (bottom) Daniël Siegersma, at the Noorderlicht Gallery.

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.

Some drinks at the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival 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 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.

Installation shot: CAPTIVE, Christine Fitzgerald at Studio Sixty Six

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.

Hyacinth McCaw ©Christine Fitzgerald

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.

Cacuta moluccensis ©Christine Fitzgerald


Next week drool. will bring you a full report from the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival . . .

This week, though, it’s all about the anatomy of the exhibition at De Zwarte Doos. This was one of eight locations scattered throughout Groningen that mounted exhibitions for this iteration of the festival.

Invitation, front and back

The folks who run the festival, I’m pleased to report, are a smart, caring, together, totally professional bunch. A joy to work with.

As well, the fact that they traditionally pick political themes draws me to them. I’m so tired of the decorative, lyrical approach to photography that just caters to the bread and circuses aspect of this modern life, in these unsettled times.

Anyway . . .

De Zwarte Doos

As I was saying . . . Noorderlicht (translation: Northern Lights) happens in various venues throughout Groningen. De Zwarte Doos (translation: The Black Box, which is what the locals call this building) is where my work is being shown, along with photographs by (in alphabetical order) Michele Borzoni (Italy), Alan Gignoux (UK), Sergey Novikov & Max Sher (Russia), and Martin Toft (Denmark)

Martin Toft taking the photo below . . .

De Zwarte Doos is a recently vacated government Social Services building, and most of the photographs hung here are enhanced by that association. (Not to mention the fact that the theme at Noorderlicht this year is Late Capitalism and the effects of neoliberalism.)

Michele Borzoni‘s photographs are shown to great effect in the tiny rooms that had been used to conduct one-on-one interviews with social assistance seekers when the building was being used for that. This placement of these images is just so fitting.

Open Competitive Examinations portrays the bureaucratic procedure aspiring police officers, nurses and teachers must undergo to have a chance at a job. Workers Buyouts shows group portraits of employees who had taken over their companies when the original owners of those companies were threatening to shut them down.

My work, on the main wall, is from After the Fact, which imagines some possible future. Here’s an excerpt from the statement I sent to Noorderlicht:

The Earth is changing, our societies are too. These changes are causing upheavals planet-wide. The rich don’t need to worry though, the constant crisis provides opportunity for them. They have the resources to construct their own realities and safe havens. The rest of the world is becoming, for them, redundant.

After the Fact imagines what life in the First World might look and feel like for those who have been deemed, in these changing times, surplus to requirements. 

From the UK, Alan Gignoux traveled to the oil sands in Northern Alberta. There, mostly from a helicopter, he photographed that blight on the landscape.

Attached to many of these aerial photos are smaller images that show aspects of life on the ground . . . farmers, monster houses, churches and the like.

Sergey Novikov & Max Sher are exhibiting large panels of photographs with text. This work visualizes the ideas, techniques, tactics and narratives the ruling powers in Russia use to exercise their power.

Finally, Martin Toft, originally from Denmark but now living in the Channel Island of Jersey, uses that proximity to probe aspects of that island’s transformation into one of the world’s leading offshore International Finance Centres (read: tax haven).

The images shown here are but one aspect of a long, deep investigation Martin has been conducting that tells the story of Jersey’s contemporary prosperity.

The five projects in The Black Box consider various aspects of the times in which we live, and the show is stronger because of that. It’s so great to be involved in an endeavour that features and contextualizes photography that’s about more, really, than just what’s in front of the lens.

The festival runs until December 1st. If you find yourself within striking distance of Groningen you should go have a look.

The Noorderlicht venues in Groningen