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FotoWeek DC

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Editorial Review

FotoWeek DC: Most of the art isn't on paper

By Michael O'Sullivan
Thursday, November 4, 2010

FotoWeek DC is a bit like . . . speed dating.

Think about it: Over the course of a single week, this Friday to next Saturday, thousands of pictures will vie for your attention (if not your affection) in this third annual celebration of the photographic art. Based for the first time at the Corcoran Gallery of Art but including a lineup of dozens of shows at more far-flung "partner" galleries and museums in and around the city, FotoWeek seems, at first glance, like an overwhelming parade of visual stimulation.

In some ways, it is.

The guy who dreamed up the idea three years ago admits as much. According to Theo Adamstein - FotoWeek's founder, president and executive director - the program was originally envisioned as Washington's first homegrown photography competition, but it quickly grew into a sprawling, week-long festival, embracing not only a photo contest but also exhibitions, lectures, workshops, films and other photo-themed events. It had become, he says, "a bit of an unwieldy beast."

Adamstein also describes FotoWeek as a form of "matchmaking at its best." The idea, he says, is straight out of the speed-dating playbook: Throw up as many photographs as possible - whether framed and hanging on a traditional gallery wall, reproduced in a growing library of art books that visitors can browse through or temporarily projected onto the exteriors of various local buildings - and then "let the public decide what they want to see."

Admittedly, that last part - deciding what to see - may not be the easiest decision, given the array of options. But it's a decision that's complicated by a twist: For the first time this year, the vast majority of the images pulled together by FotoWeek will not exist in any physical form.

That's because, for 2010, Fotoweek has greatly expanded its NightGallery program, offering a series of virtual outdoor galleries on city buildings whose facades are being commandeered as projection screens for a series of temporary digital slide shows. With the exception of the contest winners, whose work has been printed and will remain on view all week in the atrium of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, NightGallery includes no actual photographic prints. It's there, in the streets - on the outside of such buildings as the Corcoran, the Newseum, the American Red Cross, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian and the offices of the Human Rights Campaign - that you'll find the heart of FotoWeek DC.

That heart includes, in addition to this year's contest winners, three major exhibitions organized around the themes of conservation, documentary and fine art:

2010 FOTOWEEK DC INTERNATIONAL AWARDS COMPETITION

At the center of FotoWeek DC is its international competition. Juried by a panel that includes collectors (e.g., Tony Podesta), museum curators (Sarah Greenough of the National Gallery of Art), dealers (Kathleen Ewing) and artists (Joyce Tenneson), the contest distributes more than $23,000 in cash prizes to photographers from around the world, including, for the first time, those using cellphone cameras. Beginning after dark tonight and continuing throughout the week, you'll find large-scale projections of the winning work on the facade of the Corcoran.

LIFE LIVES HERE

For her showcase of environmental-themed photographs, curator Cristina Mittermeier, president of the International League of Conservation Photographers, chose to highlight the work of eight of her colleagues. As part of "Life Lives Here," each artist was invited to present a photo essay - told in no more than a dozen pungent images - on a subject that, as Mittermeier says, "the public might not otherwise know about, but that matters to all of us."

What that means is that we'll see, in addition to Mittermeier's own work on the impact of the Belo Monte Dam construction on Brazil's Xingu River and its inhabitants, such "big stories" as photographer Garth Lenz's series on the so-called tar sands of Alberta, which documents a highly toxic method of oil extraction.

"It's a real challenge to tell a story that big in 12 pictures," Mittermeier says. You have to catch the public's attention without horrifying them with ugliness. Creating work that is both compelling and beautiful is, she says, a balancing act. "We don't want to make people turn away."

PROJECTIONS OF REALITY

The best photojournalism, according to James Wellford, offers viewers a window through which they can "engage a world they're not aware of." For the documentary portion of NightGallery, Newsweek's senior photo editor selected nine cameramen whose work - shot in Afghanistan, Ukraine and other distant locales - shows us not just something of the Other but also something of ourselves.

The scale of photographs projected on a building especially appeals to Wellford. Standing in front of such a monumental slide show, he says, it's hard to remain detached. "You suddenly step into this theater of life." If it resembles billboard advertising - and he admits it does - it's advertising something Wellford calls "editions of the real world." The bigness of the pictures may be Shakespearean, he says, but if done right the experience is a shared one.

100 PORTRAITS - 100 PHOTOGRAPHERS: SELECTIONS FROM THE FLAKPHOTO.COM ARCHIVE

In a city known for the famous faces on view at the National Portrait Gallery, it may come as a surprise to find that there are no celebrities in Andy Adams's portraiture-themed NightGallery. Well, hardly any.

Of the 100 portraits chosen by Adams, the editor and publisher of the online photo gallery/journal Flak Photo, and writer-curator Larissa Leclair, only one features a big name (Kate Moss). That's no accident, says Adams, who challenges viewers to look beyond the subject to the image itself.

The show includes both emerging artists and such well-known photographers as Doug DuBois, whose portrait of his mother - sporting a surgical scar across her neck - is one of the show's more powerful images, according to Adams. If there's a common theme to the portraits, many of which include members of the artists' families, Adams says it may be how normal, how relatable the people in the pictures are. "They look like people I know," he says.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND ALL OF THIS?

In addition to the curated projections described above, the NightGallery program includes a host of smaller, thematic slide shows that will be taking place all week, all over town. On Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., for instance, Dupont Circle will have two giant outdoor screens, one featuring FotoWeek contest winners and the other hooked up to a photo booth where you can have your own picture taken. Tracking down one of the curated photo projections, however, might be a bit more tricky. That's because the projections don't adhere to any fixed schedule but will be shown in rotation with a lot of other work. What pictures you see, in other words, will depend on when and where you show up. For a full schedule, visit www.fotoweekdc.org/events/nightgallery-schedule.aspx#schedule.

FotoWeek DC: What to do when

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark your calendars. FotoWeek DC is chockablock with fun stuff to do, but here are a few special dates you might not want to miss.

Friday from 8 to 11 p.m. The Corcoran Gallery of Art hosts the official launch party and awards ceremony. Can't get in, or don't want to try? No matter. All evening long, the outside of the museum will be lit up with the first in a series of free photo projections that will take place across the city all week. 500 17th St. NW. $45.

Saturday at 2:30 p.m. "NightGallery: Behind the Projections." Margaret Adams, assistant professor of photography at the Corcoran, leads a discussion about the selections for NightGallery with curators James Wellford, Andy Adams and Larissa Leclair as well as Kathy Moran, National Geographic magazine's senior editor for natural history projects (sitting in for curator Cristina Mittermeier). Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. Free.

Saturday at 7 p.m. "The President's Photographer." The National Geographic Society presents the world premiere of a new film that follows White House photographer Pete Souza as he goes about his job. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring former White House photographers Eric Draper, Robert McNeely and David Valdez. Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St. NW. Prescreening reception at 6 p.m. $20.

Saturday at 8 p.m through Sunday at 6 a.m. "NightVisions." Show up with your own photos - the theme: DC portraits - and submit them to a panel of night-owl photo editors, who will select one photo per entrant, on the spot. Your picture will then be printed and exhibited at Satellite Central for the remainder of FotoWeek. Satellite Central, 3333 M St. NW. $10 application fee.

Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. "Ask Tim Wride." The Los Angeles-based photo curator, writer and founding executive director of the No Strings Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides grants to photographers, offers tips for collectors, shooters and people who just love photography. Civilian Art Projects, 1010 Seventh St. NW. $10. While there, be sure to check out the gallery's two photo exhibitions, "Noelle K. Tan - The America Project: utopia" and "Remote."

Thursday from 8 to 11 p.m. Metro Collective, an international coalition of 12 independent photographers, presents its members' work in a digital slide show, accompanied by a musical score composed by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation. Satellite Central, 3333 M St. NW. $20.

Nov. 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. "Slideluck Potshow." Show up with a dish to share. Mingle and eat from the buffet. Then gather around to watch a curated digital slide show that, in previous editions of this low-key event, has been known to range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Satellite Central, 3333 M St. NW. $10, with a covered dish.

Nov. 13 from 8 to 11 p.m. The House of Sweden brings the curtain down on FotoWeek with a closing party, featuring indoor and outdoor photo projections and the announcement of the winner of a cellphone photography competition. For information on how to enter the contest, go to www.fotoweekdc.org. 2900 K St NW. $25.

- Michael O'Sullivan