FORMAT Festival 2017: Derby’s International Photography Festival returns

FORMAT Festival 2015 Launch Night by Charlotte Jopling

FORMAT Festival 2015 Launch Night by Charlotte Jopling - Credit: Archant

Nigel Powlson finds out what’s in store for us when Derby’s international photography festival returns

FORMAT opening Image by Graham Lucas-Commons

FORMAT opening Image by Graham Lucas-Commons - Credit: Archant

THE UK’s biggest photography festival returns to Derby to once again put the city in the international spotlight.

Since it was founded in 2004, the FORMAT Festival has become established as a leading international event attracting participation and interest from across the world. FORMAT never really stops its global quest to showcase the best in photography, both online and in one-off events, but its central focus is a biennial festival that takes over the city in the spring of alternate years.

This brings us to FORMAT 2017 which runs from 24th March to 23rd April and features more than 50 exhibitions at a wide variety of locations – including QUAD, Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Déda and even outdoors on Cathedral Green.

Director Louise Clements has been involved in FORMAT from its founding days and is delighted with the progress it has made and its current standing in the arts world.

Julia Fullerton-Batten, The Leopard Boy, India from the series Feral Children

Julia Fullerton-Batten, The Leopard Boy, India from the series Feral Children - Credit: Archant

She says: ‘The quality and the diversity of the work continues to grow – as does the level of interest internationally. I believe photography also continues to grow in importance as a medium for social expression. With the decline in traditional media such as newspapers, photography has a growing role in highlighting issues around the world. It has also never been more accessible and continues to develop extremely quickly.’

Each festival has a theme – with Louise inviting artists to explore and push the boundaries of the original concept. For the 2017 edition of FORMAT the theme is HABITAT– offering artists the chance to document and investigate the world around them at a key point on the planet’s future.

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HABITAT will look broadly at ‘landscape, environment, mobility, migrations, digital worlds, ideas of home and displacement, conflict and regeneration and all the spaces that we live in, including work.’ It will also consider our short and long term impact on the world.

‘Choosing a theme is never easy,’ says Louise. ‘It has to offer an opportunity wide enough for everyone to see ways to explore it.

ISLANDS, 2015 ?Kenta Cobayashi, Noriko Nakazato, Psychic VR Lab, Courtesy of G/P gallery

ISLANDS, 2015 ?Kenta Cobayashi, Noriko Nakazato, Psychic VR Lab, Courtesy of G/P gallery - Credit: Archant

‘We have our own ideas as to what the theme is about but we also want people to challenge that and use their imaginations and come up with their own interpretations. The response really does surprise and amaze us each and every time.’

HABITAT is an important theme for our times says Louise because of the impact mankind is having on the planet. ‘Scientists say we are entering the Anthropocene age when human activity is the major determining factor on things like climate and the environment – so it seemed timely to be looking at that. But the theme of habitat isn’t just about that but also the way we all live our lives so there is plenty of scope.’

The festival puts out an open call for artists to respond to the theme and this year FORMAT’s international credentials are again demonstrated by the response. Entries have been received from 68 countries, some being attracted to FORMAT for the first time. Louise says: ‘More than half come from outside the UK.’

The final selection was decided by an invited panel of judges. The results are photographs, multi-media work, installations and video pieces that will inspire and amaze visitors.

One of the major exhibitions in FORMAT 2017 can be seen in QUAD’s Gallery from 24th March until well after the festival has officially finished on 11th June.

‘Ahead Still Lies Our Future’ has been curated by Louise alongside Hester Keijser and features 10 artists who encourage visitors to ‘speculate about futures imagined on a global scale’ – the works also confront the changes made to the planet by technological advances.

The artworks on view will range from Ester Vonplon’s lament for the melting glaciers of her Swiss homeland to a video installation by Lida Abdul which takes a look at dealing with memories provoked by the war in Afghanistan.

Throughout FORMAT Louise believes there are some extraordinary narratives and compelling imagery – whether it’s looking at the northern outpost of Svalbard, concerns for the break-up of the former Yugoslavia or a look at the visual archaeology of London’s East End.

Derby’s place in the photography world is always put in sharp focus by FORMAT and this year there is a chance to delve into the celebrated WW Winter Ltd Studio collection. Curated by Greg Hobson, this exhibition explores the extensive collection of photographs assembled by one of the longest running studios in the world – dating back to 1854. A fascinating pictorial record of Derbyshire life and people, the images of WW Winter Ltd are an important part of Derby heritage.

Louise says: ‘It’s an incredible archive of images and many of them have not been seen for many years, so I’m sure it will provoke a lot of interest.’

FORMAT is presenting the finale of the pan-European Flaneur: New Urban Narratives project which features 26 commissions completed over the last three years across 12 countries.

And wherever you go in Derby while the festival is on, there will be a chance for photography to catch the eye, not least because there will be a series of lightboxes placed outside in Cathedral Green.

It’s not the first time that FORMAT has had an outdoor exhibition with work previously displayed in the Market Place, and Louise believes it’s an important aspect of this year’s festival.

‘It’s a big investment so we can’t always do it but it does help draw people into the festival and make them feel a part of it,’ she says.

FORMAT is now so much part of the Derby cultural scene that it’s hard to imagine it not taking place every other year, especially as it has a major economic benefit on the city with hotel bedrooms being booked a long time in advance as Derby enjoys an influx of national and international visitors.

But with the uncertainties of Brexit and the challenging climate for arts funding there are never any certainties.

Louise say: ‘FORMAT takes an immense amount of forward planning and long term thinking. I travel all over the world and I know the reputation FORMAT has gained but the Arts Council doesn’t always have a clear position regarding the future of funding so nothing is ever guaranteed.’

What Louise does believe is that the quality and diversity of the work, and the enthusiasm and acclaim from practitioners and visitors alike, will help ensure that FORMAT remains part of the city’s cultural landscape for the foreseeable future. w

On page 198 Jonathan Wallis talks about past work of Derby photography studios. Next month we take a special look at the WW Winter Ltd exhibition.

FORMAT 2017 launches on 23rd March and the festival takes place between 24th March and 23rd April.

Featuring over 200 photographers in a global line-up of exhibitions, portfolio reviews, events, conferences, mass participation, a photobook market and much more, it’s all curated around the theme of HABITAT.

FORMAT International Photography Festival was established in 2004 and is the UK’s leading international contemporary festival of photography and related media. FORMAT organises a year round programme of international commissions, open calls, residencies, conferences and collaborations in the UK and internationally.

The 2015 festival welcomed more than 100,000 visitors from all over the world. The biennale and off-year programmes celebrate the wealth of contemporary photographic practice. The programmes feature everything from major conceptual works, participatory projects, documentary and all that falls between categorisations, from the mobile phone to the archive. FORMAT is focused on developing opportunities for audiences to see, debate, develop, contribute and participate in the best of what photography is and can be, with comprehensive professional practice programmes and a yearly International Photography Portfolio Review.

The biennale edition incorporates more than 30 of Derby’s most beautiful buildings and key landmarks including: QUAD, University of Derby, Derby Museum & Art Gallery, Déda, Derwent Valley World Heritage Sites, Market Place and satellite venues in nearby cities.

FORMAT is directed by Louise Clements and is organised by QUAD and the University of Derby. It is supported by Arts Council England, Derby City Council and multiple partners from the UK and around the world.

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