FotoWeek DC: Feast Your Eyes On This

"Fixation," one of many exhibits during FotoWeek DC, features John Ulaszek's "Miss Dairy Queen." (By John Ulaszek)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008; Page WE20

Take a look around you this week. Starting Saturday, if it suddenly seems as if nearly every public art space in town -- from the venerable Corcoran Gallery of Art to the contemporary micro-gallery Curator's Office -- is showing photography, it's not just your imagination.

Welcome to FotoWeek DC.

You may need a road map. The first-ever citywide event, which runs through Nov. 22, is officially headquartered in Georgetown (3333 and 3338 M St. NW are known as FotoWeek Central), but it's harder than that to nail down. Like some blob oozing out of a lab in a bad sci-fi movie, FotoWeek will take a temporary toehold in every corner of the region, from Anacostia to American University Park to the Atlas District, and from Northern Virginia to Rockville. Nine embassies are participating. You'll find photography exhibitions, naturally, both historical and contemporary. But there will also be spreads of photographic art books, lectures, panel discussions, workshops, portfolio reviews, contests, a photographic technology pavilion and outdoor projections of pictures on the walls of public buildings after dark.

How, pray tell, to get one's bearings in this baffling bazaar?

"Good question," George Hemphill says. The gallery owner, whose Hemphill Fine Arts is one of FotoWeek's blue-chip venues, served as liaison between FotoWeek and the area's art community, reaching out to galleries, alternative art spaces and museums. According to Hemphill, organizers expected to round up 30 galleries, tops, not the more than 70 that ultimately signed on. "We never encountered a 'no,' " he says.

Some of that enthusiasm he chalks up to the fact that FotoWeek imposed few stipulations about what constituted photographic art. "I said, 'If you want to show a painting of a camera, you're in,' " he says. The week's sponsors, which include The Post, National Geographic and Hemphill Fine Arts, are representative of the eclectic nature of the offerings.

In a classic bit of understatement, Hemphill calls the week's array "multi-tiered."

At the top of the heap are such museum shows as the Corcoran's "Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power" (through Jan. 25); the National Museum of Women in the Arts' "Role Models: Feminine Identity in Contemporary Photography" (through Jan. 25); and the Phillips Collection's "Scale Matters: Photographs From the Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection" (through Feb. 1).

And at the other end?

Take something like "Fixation," a showcase of nine young artists that's being sponsored by the Pink Line Project, whose mission is to foster the collecting and experiencing of art among young people, and Ten Miles Square, an organization that promotes emerging photographers. The show, which opens Friday, is at the Fight Club, an underground Blagden Alley venue known primarily for skateboarding and music.

As Pink Line's Philippa P.B. Hughes describes "Fixation," the show is all about opening up "access points" to art for the 20-somethings and 30-somethings intimidated by, um, real galleries. These people, Hughes says, would like to get involved in the art scene, "but they won't go to a Hemphill. They will come to a skate club."

Hemphill knows that his audience is different. "The people I deal with are, for the most part, part of a club, in the know and/or very wealthy," he says. His FotoWeek contribution consists of two shows: "Hiroshi Sugimoto: Drive-In Theaters and Portraits" and a multimedia installation by Kendall Messick called "The Projectionist."

Opening more than one door to photography is the whole point of FotoWeek, according to Hemphill, who says he hopes that the "power, virtue and versatility" of photography will attract everyone from art lovers and professional photographers to amateur shutterbugs and the merely curious. "We wanted a larger reach," he says, "something more egalitarian" than just a handful of narrowly focused, high-end gallery and museum shows.

It may be hard to wrap your head around it, says Hemphill, who likens FotoWeek to a jazz band. At times, everyone seems to be playing a different tune, he says, but that's the beauty of it.

Hughes agrees. "Weirdly, that is the whole idea," she says. "To get everybody in the city to think about photography for one week at some level."

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