In 2007 that realization led Adamstein, a photographer and part-owner of Dodge-Chrome, a photo printing business, to found FotoWeek DC, a weeklong celebration of photography in Washington. The first year brought together local galleries and 15,000 people for seminars, parties and photo-shooting sessions. This year, as FotoWeek celebrates its fifth anniversary, it’s grown considerably: 3,450 entries from 32 countries, an expected attendance of 40,000, and 64 partners and growing, as of last week. The festival, Nov. 9-18, features a contest with cash prizes, as well as parties, lectures and educational opportunities. But Adamstein still finds himself dealing with photographers’ feelings – no longer of loneliness, but sometimes, of discontent. Since its first grass-roots year, Fotoweek has expanded rapidly to become an international organization — and to some photographers, that’s not necessarily a cause for celebration
From local to global
As Adamstein was contemplating the isolation of contemporary photographers more than five years ago, he says, “A thought occurred: Why are Washington photographers not recognized for great work?”
That year, he gathered about 100 photographers, curators and other folks in the business to put together a festival that focused on three types of photography that remain the festival’s wheelhouse: Fine-art photography, photojournalism and, within the latter category, images that focus on human rights and social justice.
“The very first competition was regional because we had no idea where this would grow or evolve, or even if it would go beyond one year,” he said. “After that, many photographers wrote to us and said, ‘Why is this local?’ ”
So Adamstein expanded, opening the competitions to anyone in the world who could pony up the entry fees, between $14 and $95 this year. That’s when FotoWeek changed, for better or worse, depending on whom you ask.
When FotoWeek went international, its potential for growth became limitless. The international pool of applicants made the festival more attractive to sponsors, and it began to receive more funding (today, its operating budget is approximately $750,000). It introduced curators and photographers to the D.C. scene and made it possible for FotoWeek to bring traveling shows to town. The greatest benefit of all, says Adamstein, has been in the work:
“The quality gets better and better,” he said. “The work that is not as strong does not see its way into competitions anymore, because there is really great work being submitted.”