Anne James previews the festival of photography heading to the city
In a fortnight’s time Oxford will open its doors to its first international festival of photography, a festival that will run for three weeks. It is the brain child of photojournalist Robin Laurance and promises to become a biennial event.
It includes more than 30 exhibitions in art venues across the city; between them they cover a huge spectrum of techniques and subject matter. There is also a programme of photography-related films at the Phoenix in Walton Street and at a pop-up drive-in cinema at Unipart, in Cowley. The programme includes such classics as Mexican Suitcase, Rear Window and Memento.
There is also a substantial programme of workshops and talks on photography, including its impact in documentary reportage, its creative abilities, an exploration of wildlife photography, an exposition of the role played by photography in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, David Campany and Seamus Murphy’s retrospective on life in and the fabric of Kabul since the 1970s, while at the Bodleian there will be a lecture on Henry Fox Talbot.
The Jam Factory will play host to the winners of an international photographic competition. People from around the world were invited to submit images based on the theme of Glass with no restrictions on format, colour or equipment used. The result was a submission of 800 photographs from across the globe, from people in count-ries as diverse as the US, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Latvia and Nepal. Of the final 40 images, 20 were selected by a panel of professional judges and 20 by an online vox pop vote which attracted 140,000 hits.
At Maison Francaise there is an exhibition of work by the French photographer Bernard Plossu, best known for his autobiographical pieces. Now in his late seventies, he is showing his work in Britain for the first time. These include a wonderful portrait of a soaring eagle, free as the air it mounts and unbounded by the ragged outline of the window frame from whose confines the photographer views its world.
At Wadham College, there is the World Press Series exhibition comprised of documentary series created to reflect contemporary events. Here Laura El Tantawy has documented life in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak and Stephen McLaren the run-up to the Scottish referendum, in his series Scotia Nova, Scotland.
By contrast Art Jericho is showing work by Maisie Broadhead. Her fine art photography produces delicate portraits inspired by and using the classic poses of Vermeer. In Speaking at a Machine, the timeless of the young woman’s pose translates to the contemporary via the detail: her top is a knitted sweater, the mug, modern and on the table there is a desktop telephone switchboard.
The O3 Gallery is playing host to work in a very different style: Restwert by two contemporary German photographers, Dietmar Eckell and Matthias Heiderich. Here they examine the residue of human occupation as described on to landscapes, Eckell via forlorn aircraft and abandoned vistas, and Heiderich by way of geometric form and hyper-saturated colours, as in Reflexiones08, where the impossibly geometric lines of the building are enhanced by their own strong colours running in parallel and in contrast with the impenetrable blue sky behind.
The Sarah Wiseman Gallery is showing work by three photographers including David Rhys Jones who transfers images of unique aspects of British towns into wall-mounted pieces such as his Grey’s Inn Court Spoons, with the court’s own characteristics captured in the bowl and on the handle of each of five regimented spoons.
At Lady Margaret Hall, Richard Davies is showing a series on wooden churches. In Kimzha, one of these impossibly fascinating fairytale constructions, the church appears to be both permanent and transitory, with its gracious architectural detail delineated in crude planks of wood.
The festival provides a not to be missed opportunity to explore and enjoy photography and photographers across the broad spectrum that the medium covers. An opportunity strongly endorsed by the Oxford Mail and Times as the festival’s media partner.
The festival runs across the city from 14th September to 5th October. The full programme can be found at www.photographyoxford.co.uk