Liverpool's Look/15: A photo festival of connections and dialogues

By Miranda Gavin | 22 May 2015

Liverpool's International Photography Festival Look/15: Exchange explores women, migration and memory. Miranda Gavin takes a look

a photo of young woman next to a photo of tree bark
Sonal Kantaria, Traces (2013)© Sonal Kantaria
LOOK/15:EXCHANGE is the third edition of the biennial Liverpool International Photography Festival. Thirty-four exhibitions are taking place across the city until 31 May, and some beyond. This year's theme of exchange is broad and sets out to examine women, migration and memory with a range of works by foundation degree photography students, emerging and established photographers and visual artists using photography.

As such, it is a photo festival of connections and dialogues, both locally and internationally. And while some associations appear tentative, others are more obvious. However, with limited time to cover an entire festival, this review can only hope to offer a snapshot.

The Bluecoat

a photo of a wall of photos that make a desert landscape
Xavier Ribas, Desert Trails (2012)© Xavier Ribas
International bodies of work co-habit with local history at The Bluecoat, where the varied conceptual approaches taken by Chilean artist Xavier Ribas can be seen in the same venue as a series of black-and-white documentary photographs by Tricia Porter.

Ribas' vast, densely researched project Nitrate (2009-14) is his first major solo show in the UK and is a series of responses delving into the extraction, trade, exploitation and commodification of sodium nitrate, which was extensively mined between 1870s and 1920s in Northern Chile by the British and used as a fertilizer and in the manufacture of explosives.

Various photographic series are articulated in colour and black and white, using texts and artefacts with photographs displayed on walls and video shown on floor-mounted monitors, together producing a cultural history of the journey of this non-renewable mineral.

In this thought-provoking work, curated by Carles Guerra, there is no single image or series to provide understanding. Instead, the work demands to be engaged with via multiple points of entry—physically, emotionally and intellectually. NITRATE is part of a larger funded project about industrial landscapes that has been developed in collaboration with historian Louise Pubrick and photographer Ignacio Acosta.

Tricia Porter

a black and white photo of a couple in a pub
Tricia Porter, Couple at the Belvedere (1972)© Tricia Porter
In Tricia Porter: Liverpool Photographs 1972-74, Porter captures the street scenes of Toxteth. The area, known as L8, is captured in a collection of intimate black and white social studies comprised of two series Bedford Street Liverpool (1972) and Some Liverpool Kids (1974), which includes a tender portrait of a couple lighting their cigarettes, tip to tip.

Both Ribas' and Porter's bodies of work demonstrate a tremendous commitment and sensitivity to their subjects. But there is a marked difference between them in tone, scale, photographic strategy and approach.

Kepes at Tate

At Tate Liverpool, a series of recently-acquired photograms, photomontages and photographs, created during the late 1930s by Hungarian artist György Kepes, remind us of the a photographer who helped found the New Bauhaus art school in America.

Before he emigrated to America, Kepes worked in fellow Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy's studio in Berlin. The 80 works on show were produced over a few years during an epoch of experimentation that reveals the prolific nature of Kepes' artistry and interest in visual design.

a semi abstract photomontage with a central propeller motif
György Kepes, Propeller (circa 1939-1940)
The show includes camera-less photograms - made by placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper and exposing them to light - while also highlighting Kepes' fascination with abstraction (colour, shape and light), assemblage and the confluence of visual arts, science and technology.

This long-overdue show is Kepes' first UK solo exhibition and has been programmed as one of three exhibitions taking place as part of Tate Liverpool's Surreal Landscapes season with Leonora Carrington and Cathy Wilkes. Further work by Kepes can be seen at John Moore's University Exhibition Research Centre, while the Texas Photography Society's (TPS) modest group show at Warp, Alternative Process, comes full circle marking a return to photography's scientific and artistic roots.

Open 1 at Open Eye

Anyone interested in social portraiture should seek out Open 1 at Open Eye Gallery, comprising work exploring "visual aspects of association and identity". Sonal Kantaria's series, Traces, explores portraiture and the Australian landscape, migration, identity and settlement through a series of striking unframed diptychs developed during a number of artist residencies in Australia.

In the same show, Billy Macrae's series stood out for all the wrong reasons, lacking imagination and drawing heavily from the concept and work on the Dear Photograph website created by Taylor Jones in 2011.

Portraiture is one of the most popular photographic genres and whether individuality is played out in an office environment or a detention centre, whether the portrait is candid or staged, the subject dead or alive, the parameters as to what constitutes a portrait are flexible and worthy of more debate.

AOP Photography Awards

a photo of the corpse of an old lady holding a flower
Clare Park, My mother Kathleen © printed by Jean Lippett
Heading over to St George's Hall, where the finalists and winning images submitted to THE 31st AOP Photography Awards have been curated by AOP member Wendy Carrig, Clare Park's arresting and dignified portrait of her deceased mother holding a sword-like gladiolus across her chest, Migration-my mother Kathleen, is positioned quietly at one end of the corridor exhibition space like a full stop at the end of a sentence.

With something to suit most tastes, LOOK15:EXCHANGE is an ambitious, spirited festival with a remit that aims to open up conversations around photography and visual culture and reach out to diverse audiences through a lively programme of events, activities and talks.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24's Photography section:

"Photography is a powerful tool": Artist Rut Blees Luxemburg on her new exhibition at the Museum of London

Lee Miller's photographs of Picasso to be showcased in major Scottish National Portrait Gallery exhibition

Photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson on the Skate Girls of Kabul

Latest comment: >Make a comment
It is not in-depth but covers some of the shows I had time to see.
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