Fotobokfestival om klimakrisen



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Årets Fotobokfestival viser bidrag fra mer enn 50 kunstnere fra 36 land, med fokus på klimakrisen. Vi har snakket med kurator Ethan Rafal om årets utstilling og program.
Kurator Ethan Rafal.

You are the curator behind the main exhibition at this years Fotobokfestival Oslo. What is your background and your interest in photo books?

I suppose I would say that my background and interest in art and photography stems from both formal education in art —as a conceptual, research-based practice — and my deeply felt need to participate in activism and social justice movements. I found photography as a young person responding to post 9-11 America, very much by accident, as an outgrowth of shooting and editing skate films as a teenager. Over the last 20years I have participated in many methodologies within photography — from lens-based to material-practice approaches. 

In no small way, my interest in photo books is because of this omnivorous belief about photography — photo book culture is a big tent that brings people in, coming from diverse backgrounds and diverse beliefs about what photography is and should be. My love of photo book culture comes from this — I truly believe in multiculturalism and destroying the supremacy of the Western art canon. Many people say they want to accomplish this, but the only fine art discipline decentralizing access to the means of production, distribution, and exhibition is the photo book. It’s all the only visual culture space that activates a middle class existence for artists and patrons— I come from a deeply unequal, privatized society. So, this is a big deal to me. Structures matter for the long term growth and survival of an artist, I want an expanded version of photo book culture for all my students and those I mentor. 

Årets fotobokfestival viser bøker fra mer enn 50 kunstnere fra 36 ulike nasjoner.

The title for this years Photo Book festival is ‘The Climate Emergency in 50 rounds’. Could you please elaborate on the thematic and how it is explored in the festival?

The 50 rounds refers to the 50+ artists in the festival. These 50+ artists are coming from 36 countries across 6 continents. My goal with this festival was to exercise the potential for internationalism, and cooperation, in 2020. 

The Climate Emergency is far past the make-or-break moment, it seems basic to me that all responses to it are global,and attempt to wrestle with the complex challenges of being inclusive,comprehensive. I want global consciousness, for myself, and for the audiences I have been tasked to serve. 50 artists, 50 rounds of knowledge — this seems like a decent start.

The consequences of climate breakdown are not equal, and in the case of Northern Europe those extracting and burning carbon have thus far been spared the worst of the consequences. There is definitely an element of consciousness-raising here. I can’t speak for the artists in the festival, but I can speak for myself: I just left California where many friends were evacuated, lost homes, and find themselves vomiting from smoke inhalation. My friend’s father was told he must leave, permanently,due to the months of smoke that come each year. Everyone in this festival has knowledge to share, and we are all wise to listen, deeply. 

Fra Fotobokfestival Oslo i 2019. Foto: Jan Khür

The main exhibition is structured aroundthree subject areas, each located in their own container. Could you please elaborate on the thematic division and the presentation?

The festival is organized around several working methodologies and subject areas. In part the festival is structured with three distinct areas to respect the real and meaningful differences between these approaches. And in part this was done to make things sensible for the wider public. The three containers are as follows— Nature: Process and Representation;Documents and Evidence; and Zines and Direct Action. 

In the first container you should be on the lookout for radical approaches to material-practice photography. The artists are responding to the historical legacy of the photo book — the first photo book, via Anna Atkins' cyanotype impressions, is a work of camera-less photography. This is something overlooked when people discuss material-practice. It is intentional that this is the first container to view,there are big questions being asked about how humans understand nature, particularly through the camera and the image. 

Following this is Documents and Evidence,and Zines and Direct Action. The Documents and Evidence container is filled with books by artists who have inherited the post-documentary photography world. Their approaches are conceptual in origin, yet carried out in the real world. These projects problematize the document and the notion of evidence while serving a wide public. I was blown away to see how many people had successfully navigated major discussions about the ethical problems of documentary practice, and the veracity of the image, and still found their way back to the real world. It's a huge growth from 10 or 15 years ago. This is so necessary when making photographs about the climate crisis — the camera apparatus was,after all, a tool invented during high imperialism, and used to survey the landscape in service of an expanding global capitalism. 

The Zines and Direct Action container carries many of these concerns and methodological discussions, but it adds the twist of long having thrown away ideas about objectivity. The photo activist is present, as are works built from experiments with direct action. There are projects that grow out of community-driven efforts, the artist is less an author and more a conduit. These are artists directly confronting those responsible for the climate crisis.

Fra Fotobokfestival Oslo 2019. Foto: Jan Khür

In addition to the main exhibition there will be activities at satelite institutions such as  Fotogalleriet, Fotografiens Hus, Cyan Studio and Tronsmo. You are involved in an event withCyan, could you please give some information on this event?

The event with CYAN will take place on Saturday, September 12th. We will have a guided tour for those attending the CYAN portfolio review. Due to Covid-19 and the necessary regulations to keep folks safe, we will not have an opening. We do hope folks will get in contact to arrange tours! This festival is for everyone, and we are happy to show you around. Also — hint! — we have a rad publication you get to take home. We are very happy and honored to share the 50artists work. If people want to join on the CYAN tour, that should work (pleasecheck with Cyan in advance). It's also great to come another day and with another community. Just drop a line to the festival.

Fotobokfestival Oslo arrangeres av Forbundet Frie Fotografer (FFF) på Arbeidersamfunnets plass i perioden 10. 09. - 20. 09. For komplett og oppdatert festivalprogram, se

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