The city of Houston was built on the energy and profits of risk-taking oilmen who made and lost fortunes from one month to the next. This buccaneering tradition may explain why it has become home to FotoFest, the only international photographic biennial in the US.
Now in its eighth year, FotoFest has transformed itself from a photographic circus passing through town to an event well established in the community. This year’s event (from 3 March to 3 April) presents works from five continents in more than eighty venues around town and the roster of participating museums, commercial galleries, alternative spaces, corporate galleries, restaurants and other retailers continues to grow.
A sample of exhibitions, curated by individuals at a wide range of institutions, includes: “Contemporary photographers from Korea: a new generation”, “Highlights in Nordic photogravure”, “Minimalism and Modernism”, “Fabricated histories: African-American women”, “Lovers, fighters and wild bull riders”, “Vernon Fisher’s File 00” and “Irving Penn: a career in photography” (at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston).
The event also features an occasion called the Meeting Place, an opportunity for photographers to present portfolios to top curators in the field.
According to co-founder Wendy Watriss, the aim of FotoFest is to present new material: “Our purpose is to tread new ground, to go where the museums and galleries haven’t yet been. We have a particular freedom in our artistic decisions because we don’t come out of the museum or art-historical world. We approach photography as practitioners with eclectic interests.”
Detecting a trend in this year’s exhibitions, Ms Watriss remarked that, in the midst of playing with all of the new tools provided by advanced technology, a number of artists are working with photogravure, cyanotype, gelatin silver printing and other old-fashioned processes. In addition much of the work combines photography with installation, sculpture and other genres.
FotoFest 2000 is part of a larger, two-year-long celebration of photography in Europe and North and South America. The Festival of Light (until September 2001) links a series of festivals including Mois de la Photo in Paris next November.
Six years ago there were doubts about FotoFest’s survival. Ms Watriss notes: “There was a time, in 1992-94, when we had a very large debt and had to postpone the festival. Things changed with the sponsorship of Kodak and of our other big donors. We have proved that we know how to maximise resources (our budget this year is about $600,000) and do things of quality that don’t cost an arm and a leg.”
The title chosen for an article on the international photography biennial, Fotofest 2000 (The Art Newspaper, No. 101, March 2000, p.17), was in fact the title of an exhibition, which we failed to credit. The exhibition “Lovers, fighters and wild bull riders”, was held at the Aurora Picture Show as part of Fotofest 2000.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as: 'Lovers, fighters and wild bull riders'