What’s in store at Derby’s FORMAT 15 International Photography Festival

'Sorry I Was Miles Away' by Jack Carvosso, FORMAT 15

'Sorry I Was Miles Away' by Jack Carvosso, FORMAT 15 - Credit: Archant

Nigel Powlson previews Derby’s biennial FORMAT International Photography Festival, 13th March to 12th April 2015

Louise Clements at the launch of FORMAT13 held at St Pancras International, Champagne Bar. Photo: Michael Walter/Troika

Louise Clements at the launch of FORMAT13 held at St Pancras International, Champagne Bar. Photo: Michael Walter/Troika - Credit: Michael Walter/Troika

Derby’s International reputation for photography will be showcased at the 10th anniversary edition of the FORMAT Festival, which will bring more than 100,000 visitors to the city.

There will be exhibitions from leading photographers in venues across Derby, talks, special events, a chance for everyone to take part and submit their own images, and master classes for those already embracing the art form.

Louise Clements, artistic director of QUAD and FORMAT, is thrilled at the response to the 2015 festival, which is attracting attention from all over the world.

She says: ‘For Exposure, our open call event, we had over 1,000 entries from more than 60 countries. The entries were of such a high quality it has been really difficult to select the ones for the festival. There were some really high-profile names in there and the work was of the highest quality.

John Forkin, director of Marketing Derby, at the launch of FORMAT13 held at St Pancras International, Champagne Bar.

John Forkin, director of Marketing Derby, at the launch of FORMAT13 held at St Pancras International, Champagne Bar. Photo: Michael Walter/Troika - Credit: Michael Walter/Troika

‘I am on a lot of juries at international events and I know that our open call compares well to any around the world. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches.’

For the 2015 FORMAT festival the theme is ‘Evidence’.

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‘The choice is always difficult,’ says Louise. ‘You have to pick something that is wide enough for everyone to see a possibility in it. We want people to use their imaginations and challenge our interpretation of the theme. But it also needs to fit into the contemporary zeitgeist, not only in terms of art but also issues in the world.

‘Photography in its basic form is evidential; it’s some kind of record. Also photography is everywhere today and we take more images on our mobile phones now in a single day than we did in the entire 1800s. Our lives are infused with images everywhere, in advertising, on social media and in the news.

Patron of The FORMAT International Photography Festival, photographer Brian Griffin, speaks at the press launch of...

Patron of The FORMAT International Photography Festival, photographer Brian Griffin, speaks at the press launch of FORMAT15: Evidence at The Crossing, King's Cross, London. Photo by Michael Walter/Troika - Credit: Michael Walter/Troika

‘But do we trust those images? Are they being used to misinterpret events? So there are fascinating and troubling issues about how we gauge the truth that will come out in the exhibitions and talks.’

Louise believes that almost everyone has an interest in photography.

She says: ‘Unlike other arts forms, photography is very accessible, almost everyone has taken a picture at some point in their lives.’

More recently that includes the rise of the ‘selfie’ and our increasing desire to post pictures of ourselves.

'Evidence, 1977', c. Mike Mandel c. Larry Sultan

'Evidence, 1977', c. Mike Mandel c. Larry Sultan - Credit: Archant

‘In a way that’s how we prove our own existence,’ says Louise. ‘Some people think that taking too many selfies is now a psychological condition. Young people have grown up with things like Snapchat and Twitter and instant images everywhere and we need to look at what that all means to our lives.

‘We will be encouraging people to take pictures with their mobile phones and to download them on our app. We will have guest photography bloggers on Instagram. There will be lots of interactive projects so people can contribute photographs they have taken themselves. The New York Times has used pictures taken on mobile phones on the covers of its magazines, so anything is possible.’

The wide ranging and international flavour of FORMAT can be seen in the way practitioners explore the theme of evidence.

One exhibition from India will look at how images were used in the media at the time of the partition with Pakistan.

'Cottages of Quigley's Point' by Jill Quigley, FORMAT15

'Cottages of Quigley's Point' by Jill Quigley, FORMAT15 - Credit: Archant

Louise says: ‘The whole festival will be full of stories and histories, various versions of the truth and whether we believe them or not. It’s a very complicated and rich area to explore.’

The theme also gives organisers the chance to play around with treasure hunts and invite visitors to play detective as they explore the festival.

Louise says, ‘We are designing an app which is a game where you become the detective and hunt for clues with a prize at the end. It takes you around the different venues and exhibitions and is a playful, fun side of FORMAT.’

There will be an exhibition at the police museum in Derby Gaol looking at mugshot photography through the ages.

Another display picking up the theme of crime takes a look at the archives of the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police.

‘There are fantastic photographs of disguises and spy training,’ says Louise. ‘Alongside that are images from an Italian arts collective looking at how people suffered under the Stasi.’

One exhibition looks at the international seed bank programme, which preserves blood types and DNA from animals all around the world.

Louise says: ‘There will be so much going in but that’s what people expect from FORMAT. We have spent a lot of time working with young people who over the last decade have grown up with FORMAT.

‘We always try to engage with people in the city as well. It’s a festival for Derby, but one which attracts a global audience. We want everyone in Derbyshire to feel welcome and to feel excited about it.’

The FORMAT International Photography Festival takes place at various venues in and around Derby from 13th March to 12th April. Go to www.formatfestival.com


Over the last decade, the FORMAT International Photography Festival has worked with hundreds of artists from all over the world and has brought international acclaim and recognition to Derby. The first festival in 2005 built on Derby’s historical traditions in photography but has grown exponentially, attracting an ever-growing audience and ever more willing participants.

The first festival attracted 30,000 visitors, the 2013 edition more than 100,000 and FORMAT now makes a significant impact of the Derbyshire economy.

In 2004, Mike Brown from Derby City Council and Louise Clements came up with the idea for FORMAT. Mike had a deep interest in photography, having studied at the University of Derby. Louise was an independent curator and artist who came to Derby in 2001 to join Q Arts. The QUAD arts centre, which would provide FORMAT with a hub, was just an idea back then but would later be an important element in moving the festival forward.

There had been a previous photography festival in Derby which had fallen by the wayside in 1997 but which had sown enough seeds to suggest the idea could flourish if it found its niche.

Louise says: “That had been one of the biggest in the UK, so the legacy was there. But due to funding issues and lack of national support it came to an end. But some incredible talents had shown work in the city so it proved what could be done. There is also a tradition of learning and teaching photography in the city and the University of Derby was one of the first choice places for practitioners. A lot of major photographers have studied and taught in Derby.

“I was fascinated by photography, both as a practitioner and as a curator and, coming fresh to the city in 2001, I was keen to revive the idea of a festival.”

A partnership was developed with the University of Derby and the city council and Derby was picked to host a conference for Creative Camera magazine. On the back of that, the festival was launched.

From the start, FORMAT established the idea of presenting work across multiple venues, including pop up spaces in the city, and having an open call to photographers alongside curated exhibitions.

“It was always there from the beginning to find talent that we didn’t know about,” says Louise. “The key partnerships and ideas were there from the start and since then we have learnt from each edition and it has grown and grown.”

FORMAT has now developed into a truly international festival, with global as well as local partners helping to drive it forwards. One of the secrets of its success is that it attracts both those who are dedicated to the art form and casual observers.

Louise says: “It’s about practitioners and skills sharing but also about general audiences. We want it to be fun, engaging, fascinating, inspiring.”

The ambition for FORMAT to become known internationally as one of the leading photography festivals was also there from the start.

Louise says: “When you go to other great festivals you see how good things can be and that raises aspirations. We had those ambitions from the beginning but it takes time to get there. You need the momentum.”

Louise now travels to two or three festivals a month at places around the world, making connections, learning and participating.

She says: “There are lots of things I can bring back but you always have to remember that Derby is a particular place with local specialities that we try to draw out for audiences to enjoy. We don’t have the weather of the south of France, we don’t have a Roman amphitheatre but we have great beer and pubs, our own local atmosphere and we craft FORMAT to bring out the best of the city. We then couple that with high-profile artists and innovative programming strands.

“I’m so proud now when I go to other countries and they already know where Derby is and what’s interesting about here beyond the festival. I have ended up talking about Derbyshire pikelets to people in South Korea.

“It’s growing year on year and people now book well in advance for hotels. The impact on the city is tremendous and it’s wonderful to see people walking around with their festival guides.”