Edgardo Aragón, Video still from Efectos de Familia, 2007-2009 Courtesy of Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City
Edgardo Aragón, Video still from Efectos de Familia, 2007-2009
Courtesy of Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City

Internationally recognized FotoFest brings an elegant presentation of photography
By Meghan Hendley

‘What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.’ –John Berger

The invention of photography is now one of the staples in our daily lives. Instagram takes the ordinary to a sense of extraordinary, filters and all. With the saturation of, well, every saturation, our vision is constantly taking in a piece of someone’s life with a snapshot of a scene. Looking beyond the screen of the cell phone, one can wander down hallways in order to gain an appreciation of the roots of photography while soaking in the perspective of various cultures in and beyond our country’s boundaries.

Nestled in the shadow of downtown stands a majestic warehouse known as Vine Street Studios, home to the organization known as FotoFest. Founded in 1982 by documentary photographers and journalists Frederick Baldwin and Wendy Watriss along with European gallery director Petra Benteler, FotoFest became an organization that features international programs dedicated to the art of photography. Working both locally and globally, FotoFest is a cultural exchange that, in collaboration with the Houston community, is constantly rejuvenating the arts scene.

One of the cornerstones of FotoFest that brings photographers, collectors, and admirers of this particular art form together is the FotoFest Biennial. Noted as the first international biennial in the United States for photography and photo-based art, FotoFest has been considered among the ranks of the ultimate promoters of artistic exchange and exhibition. FotoFest also reaches beyond the one-dimensional by offering multimedia presentations of images and special installations revolving around the art of photography.

In addition to the Biennial, FotoFest offers year-round programs for local children via the Literacy Through Photography series. This in-school program provides teachers with designed lesson plans that offer students a chance to craft writing techniques and basic photography skills that promote thinking skills, self-esteem, and awareness of their fellow peers.

My first encounter with FotoFest happened in 2006 during a show featuring Latin American artists. Through the industrial hallways, photographs of captivating stillness lined the walls offering a glimpse into the life of those shown. FotoFest curators take the time to choose pieces that stand as a vignette of human emotion, daily actions, abandoned moments, or social statements. Photography has an immediate resonance with us, a vision processed and an emotion stirred. The medium to large scale pieces command us to visually reach into the detail and then, in turn, be more mindful of our surroundings here and abroad.

On view through March 9, 2013, FotoFest exhibits Crónicas, a multimedia exhibition about a clan of young Mexican artists and their responses to the nation’s socially turbulent and violent drug war. The seven artists convey their creative and critical responses by interpreting the conflict in a thought-provoking fashion, highlighting the tone of the mass media’s response to the lingering situation. There is the depiction of conflict but also the revelation of the humanity seeded in the ongoing war.

In their upcoming exhibition opening March 21, 2013, International Discoveries IV is part of the well-known series of exhibitions at FotoFest that highlight the works of exemplary international artists who have been “discovered” by the curators of the organization. The international visibility of these artists at FotoFest aids in launching the careers of those exhibited. International Discoveries IV displays the work of 13 international artists discovered during the travels of FotoFest’s curators to places such as France, Russia, and Canada.

“These International Discoveries exhibitions showcase an international network of events, like FotoFest, dedicated to exposing new work and new talent around the globe,“ says FotoFest Senior Curator Wendy Watriss. “The exhibition is, like the events where we encountered these artists, about discovery and exchange. It is an exhibition that puts the individual artists’ voices at the forefront, allowing viewers to experience and compare different international perspectives and approaches in art. International Discoveries is a showcase for some of FotoFest’s core values; exposing new and developing talent and bringing the world to Houston.”

Featured artists include Fernando Di Sisto (Argentina), Kim Tae Dong (Korea), Vlad Krasnoshchok (Ukraine), FLORA (France), and Suzanne Wellm (Denmark). This show promises to be as provocative and insightful as past exhibitions and will also lead into the celebration of the 2014 Biennial where Contemporary Arab Photographic Art will be the theme offering yet another glimpse into a new culture beyond filters.

Seven Contemporary Mexican Artists Confront the Drug War
Until March 9, 2013
FotoFest Headquarters at 1113 Vine Street

International Discoveries IV
March 21 – May 4, 2013
FotoFest Headquarters at 1113 Vine Street