LOOK3 2011 Recap: Photographers and Other Fest-Goers Discuss the Highlights

As the 2011 edition of LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph came to a close, PDN asked a number of attendees what they would remember about the festival, which took place June 9–11 in Charlottesville, VA. Curated by New York Times Magazine director of photography Kathy Ryan and VII The Magazine editor Scott Thode, the festival provided photographers and photo industry professionals a number of insights courtesy of the featured artists, as well as a chance to meet with peers and make new connections.

“The same thing that’s drawing us back year after year is still present here, which is this incredible community of young photographers,” said photographer Matt Eich, a member of LUCEO Images, the collective that organized an exhibition and a pair of social events at the festival. Eich honeymooned with his wife at LOOK3 in 2007. “This is like my extended family,” he says. “It’s like a reunion because it’s not so much about the business side of things, it’s about the community and people coming together and trying to push one another forward. I think that’s what keeps this pure and fun, and keeps people coming back.”

“Ashley Gilbertson’s talk really blew me away,” Eich added. During Gilbertson’s Master’s Talk, which we reviewed here, he spoke about his war photography, about dealing with post-traumatic stress, and about how the lack of care given to veterans suffering from PTSD drove him to photograph. Said New York gallerist Sasha Wolf, “It was unusual to hear someone speak at that level of intensity without striking notes that are disingenuous. It felt so fresh—I found it incredibly moving and there was no self-aggrandizing.”

Directly following Gilbertson’s talk, Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell presented their video “Prom,” a touching and hilarious piece for which they interviewed teenagers from all over the country on their prom nights. The teenagers spoke about their relationships with their dates, how they chose their outfits, what their prom meant to them and their aspirations for the future among other topics. The video, which will be packaged with a book of Mark’s portraits of the teenagers, was a hit, and photographer Kevin C. Downs noted the relationship between the two presentations. “What resonated with me was Ashley’s talk… and then hearing young people in Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell’s video talk about this idea of joining the military as a way to see the world,” Downs said.

“That video was amazing,” said rep David Laidler, “[the way it showed] the human connective tissue and how we relate in a time like this.”

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s presentation was another highlight from the series of Master’s Talks. “Latoya Ruby Frasier was a revelation,” said collector W.M. Hunt. “A brilliant presentation seemingly consistent with her intelligence and fierce single-mindedness. For many people here her performance and exhibition will prove to be a break-out moment for her. Also, Chris Anderson’s show was perfect: personal and very well done,” Hunt added.

The Insight Conversation featuring exhibiting artist Nan Goldin, who was interviewed onstage by Sally Mann, also drew rave reviews. (Find a live blog of their talk here.) After the pair concluded their personal and wide-ranging discussion, covering everything from personal relationships to censorship to the death of book publishing to sex, emcee Vince Musi said, “Yeah, that just happened.”

“I couldn’t believe that it was happening,” said photographer Julie Blackmon. “It was so good to be there and hear them being so open and honest.”

Photographer Justin Maxon agreed. “It was so real… Nan Goldin has no filter, and I think that is a rarity. People definitely like to keep things to themselves because they’re afraid of how others will view them. I think when people can get beyond that and express themselves in a real way it’s definitely inspiring.”

“We got to see who they are now, the fun and the sad and the crazy parts, and how that played out in front of an auditorium of fans,” said Hunt.

Another Insight artist, Massimo Vitali, who was interviewed onstage by NPR’s Alex Chadwick, was equally honest about his work, saying, among other things, that light didn’t matter to him when he made his photographs, and that gallerist Marianne Boesky, who was the first to show his work, told him early on that fine art photography was about the object—the mounted and framed print—not just the photograph. “I loved Massimo,” National Geographic Traveler director of marketing Lynn Ackerson. “He’s almost like the anti-photographer, talking about photography as product and the image as object. ‘Light doesn’t matter’; who says that?!” (Find a live blog of Vitali’s talk here.)

At a festival whose tagline is “peace, love and photography,” openness and honesty about one’s work and motivations defined the majority of the artists’ talks, said photographer Martine Fougeron. “I like that people had in-depth conversations. Overall there was a truthfulness and sincerity that was deeply felt and that’s rare at festivals. It was a treat to see and understand everyone’s poetic motivation as artists.”

And while the chance to see great exhibitions and talks by icons of the photo industry inspired many, connecting and building relationships with peers was just as important.

“These sorts of events are about community building, that’s why I come,” Maxon said. “There’s work I’ve seen that I’m inspired by, but I think for the most part it’s about seeing people that I haven’t seen in a long time, building those relationships—because that’s what the photographic industry is about.”

I always enjoy photographic festivals because it’s a gathering of the tribe,” said Magnum photographer and Burn Magazine editor David Alan Harvey, who announced the winner of Burn’s Emerging Photographer Grant at the Festival. “It’s a gathering of a lot of the icons, like here in Charlottesville, but mostly it’s a celebration of the new, emerging photographers and that’s what I’m all about and that’s why I’m here. I saw a lot of work tonight and last night [in the “Shots” and “Works” multimedia projections] that was impressive. The main thing is just to reaffirm the place that photography has as a language. I know that, I always believe that, but it’s always nice to see it all over again and see new people doing new things.”

“LOOK was excellent,” concluded photographer Donald Weber: “It was like being hugged by your mother—a warm, welcoming embrace, regardless of the stupid things you may have done.”

—By Amber Terranova and Conor Risch

Related: LOOK3 2011: Ashley Gilbertson’s Exhibition About Dead Soldiers Defaced
LOOK3 2011: Med Co BD Hosts Conversation On Global Health Photo Opportunities
LOOK3 2011: Ashley Gilbertson On War, PTSD and His Project Bedrooms of the Fallen
LOOK3 2011: Christopher Anderson On Working Close to Home
LOOK3 2011: Antonin Kratochvil Chats With Scott Thode

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