This month New York City is hosting its first major photo festival. Drusilla Beyfus introduces this celebration of contemporary talent and looks at the work of the featured photographer Thomas Bangsted
With its galleries, photo agencies, studios, history of magazine publishing and reputation for breeding leading photographers, New York is commonly hailed as the home of photography. Yet until this spring the city has lacked a major festival of photography to call its own. This position is set to change with the inaugural New York Photo Festival that opens this month, with the Telegraph Media Group as a Brititsh Media Sponsor.
More a showcase than a market place, it aims to present what the contemporary camera is up to when artistry and creativity come first. To this end, four photo people with outstanding reputations will curate the show. Their range of experience varies but they are united in having a strong personal take on photography. The festival is to be held in historic industrial property on the waterfront between Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge and each of the arbiters has their own show in a dedicated building. The source of the exhibits is nothing if not global.
The Telegraph Media Group's interest feeds directly into the Telegraph Magazine. It strengthens the tie between the editorial and outstanding photography, confirms the international character of much of the photographic skill that appears on our pages, and at the same time, widens the opportunity for readers to catch up with the story and sample the pictures that might otherwise be limited to gallery-goers and buffs on the spot.
Magnum's Martin Parr is the only Brit among the curatorial team. He is globally exhibited and was the featured curator at the influential Les Rencontres d'Arles photography festival in 2004. He says that the New York festival will be 'a welcome escape from the norms of museums and established galleries. It is great to have the space to show young photographers.'
His show, called New Typologies, develops a well-known theory about photographic series. An example might be his selection of two full-length portraits of a man and a woman shown in a similar pose, each holding a revolver pointed downward. The repetition of the image with its visual affinities is thought to enlarge the viewer's understanding of the subject. Among his choices for the festival is Wassink Lundgren's sequence of Chinese city dwellers salvaging bottles lying in the street, and work from a fellow Briton and Magnum colleague, Donovan Wylie.
Kathy Ryan, one of the other curators, is the award-winning picture editor of the New York Times Magazine. She says, 'It's going to be this wonderfully contained, focused, intimate gathering.' Mulling over a theme, she realised that the pictures that most intrigued her were those in which the photographer's mindset was more attuned to painters and sculptors than to photography.
Citing Roger Ballen, a senior figure among her selection, whose black-and-white pictures are composed of real-life images, symbols, idea associations and elements of pure painting, it struck her that he was engaged with what Picasso and Braque were grappling with early in the 20th century. Comparing the camera with the fine arts, she says, 'Photography is to some extent rooted in the real world. Whatever is pictured has some kind of inherent history.'
Another artist in Ryan's show, titled Chisel, is Horacio Salinas, who 'collected shredded rubber tyres across the States and turned them into beautiful abstract forms for photography.' It suggested to Ryan that he was working in the way a sculptor would. 'Photography adds another layer of meaning. Knowing that that piece of rubber tyre was on a road at a certain moment in the past, I love that.'
Simon Norfolk, who shot the rocket base at Cape Canaveral and is one of the Telegraph Magazine's regular contributors, is also on her list. 'In the two-minute exposure a streak of light flashes across a magnificent roll of blue sky. You can appreciate these pictures as an abstraction, much as you love seeing a blue shade into red in a Rothko painting.'
The remaining two curators are Lesley A Martin, the head of the book publishing programme at the Aperture Foundation (a not-for-profit organisation that advances the cause of photography through its magazines, books and an educational programme), who has been studying the way photographers use disseminated images to create new work, and Tim Barber, a photographer and the former photo editor for Vice magazine who runs the online gallerytinyvices.com.
The hope that the lesser-known would not be overlooked has substance in the pictures reproduced here. They are from a small portfolio by a 31-year-old Dane, Thomas Bangsted. A Yale University School of Art graduate, who last year was awarded a Tierney Fellowship (which support emerging artists studying in the field of photography, principally in the States), Bangsted's work will feature in the Fellowship's satellite exhibition on show at Brooklyn's Tobacco Warehouse.
Bangsted does landscapes and seascapes and although at a glance his pictures appear straightforward, he says, 'They are not about documenting a certain place or situation, but are more like pic torial puzzles.' He likes a subtle element of humour in his composition. 'Some of the images are constructed and some are found, it's not clear to the viewer and I'm not interested in making it clear.'
The cool, silvery light in which many of his pictures are bathed is a result of his northern background. Wherever he works, this quality of light seems a constant. 'I want to make work that feels familiar to me. I like light that is flat, without shadows. It helps me paint a more neutral picture. In some of my photographs there is a certain oppressive, slightly depressive quality.'
At the moment his eye is on maritime themes in Florida. 'In some ways the ships are substitutes for people in the pictures,' he says. 'They have a very distinct character. I find it hard to incorp orate people without the picture becoming something else.' He is also attracted to animals as subjects, but not in the sense of being a naturalist photographer. 'I like the pictures to have a George Orwell quality, where the people have gone and only the animals remain.' He uses an 8x10 or 4x5 camera and shoots subjects on a one-by-one basis as they occur to him.
The two co-founders of the festival are Frank Evers, the managing director of VII Photo Agency and a former entrepreneur in the video game world, and David Power, the founder and publisher of PowerHouse Books, which publishes progressive and classic art, photography, advertising and pop culture books. His company is located in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), the off-beat Brooklyn neighbourhood which has become home to the festival.
But why did it take so long for New York to instigate its own photography festival? Ryan suggests it might be related to the intense pressure on New York real estate; but Power has a more romantic interpretation. 'New Yorkers have long relished the opportunities to reconnect with what is going on abroad at picturesque locales for photography in Madrid, Arles and Perpignan. But when we [PowerHouse] moved to a wonderful venue right in the middle of New York City that few know very well, we couldn't help but start our own tradition here in the heart of the world.'
The New York Photo Festival runs from May 14-18 (nyphotofestival.com).