It’s an exciting time for cultural and political geographers. Critical practices are becoming influential in geographical discourse, with academics like our own Alan Ingram stressing their increasing importance. Urban Photo Fest, now in its 9th year, is photo festival at this cross section of academia and art.
This year in November, their ‘photo village’, with galleries and conferences scattered across Deptford, drew large crowds of artists and scholars alike, united in curiosity of how photography is opening up debates on urban change. Collaborating with ‘a number of international arts and academic institutions, combining internationally established and emerging artists, urban theorists and researchers’, they address ‘critical urbanism within its varied and diverse forms’.
Urban Photo Fest exhibited a range of photographers each exploring urbanity in unique ways. Each photographer researching and representing different corners the city, with viewers participating in this urban exploration as the exhibitions were located in buildings that have their own unique urban story (churches, abandoned police stations, university buildings).
I spoke with Lauren Finch, exhibiting photographer and exhibitions intern, on her role in this massive project and importance of the visual arts in igniting academic debates.
Hi, Lauren. For those who haven’t heard of it – what is this festival about, broadly?
UrbanPhotoFest is an annual photographic arts festival focusing on cities and urban spaces across a variety of global contexts. We aim to provide an engaging and culturally relevant programme that reflects on visual approaches to contemporary urban life and the image of the city.
How on earth do you even begin to organise an event this big, and find so many fantastic artists with a similar vision?
Lots To do lists. A list for a list and another list to remember all the others. Once all the venues are sorted we reach out to our amazing networks. The UPF Team ranges over numerous fields, collectives and research focuses. Therefore the theme is put out and the responses are always amazing.
I found it so interesting how the festival was international art AND academic institutions working together – do you feel the photography, and more broadly the arts, play an important role in discussion of urban issues?
Whole heartedly yes. We live in an undeniably visual society, bombarded by images 24/7. What better way to talk about issues or studies than through another visual stimuli? Photography and other arts encourage a creative interplay between theories and practice that can later be reflected on in spaces like the photo village.
You guys exhibited work from all over the globe, why was the trail focused in Deptford?
Deptford is an interesting area. It is continuously changing, I don’t think I have walked down high street within the span of 24 hours without finding something new. And when we first had the idea of the Urban Photo Village, we wanted to base it within the context of a neighborhood: something close, welcoming, and familiar or could become familiar to our exhibition goers. Deptford was the perfect place and very welcoming to our 10 exhibition dream. It has strong sense of community that creates an active space to encourage discussion, participation and creativity, through the involvement of local communities, artists, researchers and those interested in contemporary urban life.
Which artist exhibited was your personal favourite, and why?
Ahh, this is a tough question. To ask me to specify a single artist is so hard, it’s like asking what my favorite movie is. I genuinely loved every artists work and respect them for opening themselves up to the public eye. It takes a lot to be so vulnerable. I don’t think the question is answerable in all honesty.
My favorite exhibition was Memory & Movement though. The space was brilliantly curated to say the least. The main Urbiquity room, in the back, literally took me on a journey through 3 small towns in different countries as if I could walk those very same paths through Estonia, Spain and Italy. The series were breathtaking and almost therapeutic while wandering through the space. Let’s not forget the front room, where Urbiquity showed what other urban goer’s could produce over a short course. I felt it encouraged new comers to welcome the urban landscape and be more attentive when moving through areas, especially those like Deptford.