For most of its brief life, Look3, the Festival of the Photograph, has been a spectacular success and a miserable failure. It's annually brought together some of the world's finest photographers for three days of peace, love, and photography. Or, to put it another way, for three days of exhibitions, workshops, talks, and parties. The cast of characters has included the likes of James Nachtwey, Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Allard, Larry Fink, David Alan Harvey, Martin Parr, Sylvia Plachy, Gilles Peress, Maggie Steber, Alex Webb, and others whose names I can't remember at the moment. How can anyone who loves photography complain about success like that?
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We could complain -- it was vitally important to complain -- because Look3 was also a failure. Until last year, no photographers of color -- no photographers of Asian, Latin American, and African descent -- had been featured at the festival. None had been been "Insight Artists," "Masters," or workshop leaders. This was a problem on a number of different levels. Thinking narrowly about photography itself, Look3 was excluding many of most interesting photographers working today. It was also wrong in the sense that taxpayer and corporate money was being used to support a racially exclusive event.
I took all of this personally. After all, Look3's events take place in my hometown (Charlottesville, Virginia), no more than a 5 minute walk from my front door.
So I did something about it. Being a child of the '60s, I organized -- bringing together members of the Charlottesville photo community, city councilors, and members of the University of Virginia faculty (where I teach) to press Look3's organizers to include leading photographers of color. Being a citizen of the twenty-first century, I also blogged about it (for instance, here and here).
There were tensions along the way, but all of this activity culminated, last spring, in what turned out to be a friendly meeting with Nick Nichols, Look3's founder and guiding light, and Andrew Owen, its managing director. They told us that they were bringing the African-American photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier to the festival in 2011 and promised that there was more to come. (By the way, everyone that I talked to last year -- and that has to be dozens of people -- thought that Frazier's master talk was fabulous. Her exhibition was also a resounding success.)
Nick and Andrew were right. Much more is here. The lineup for this year's festival has just been announced, and it includes two important African-American photographers -- Stanley Greene, a highly acclaimed, prize-winning photojournalist, and Hank Willis Thomas, a young and immensely creative multimedia artist and conceptual photographer who has been making big waves in the art world.
These are superb selections, no doubt about it. Greene will be one of three "Insight Artists" (the true stars of the event), while Thomas will be one of about six photographers who will give a "Master's Talk." ("Master" is awfully ironic, given the ways in which his work deals with race and American history). Thomas' photos will also be displayed outdoors on the Downtown Mall.
Thomas is one of my favorite younger artists. I recently saw Question Bridge, a multimedia work that he created with Chris Johnson, Bayete Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair, at the Brooklyn Museum. It was one of the most moving and challenging experiences that I've had in a long time. The video below will give you a since of what Thomas and his collaborators are up to.
Does this mean that I'm perfectly happy with Look3? Who, me? Perfectly happy? No. I'd still like to see much greater representation Asian, Asian-American, Latin American, Latino/a, and African photographers, who are all few and far between at the festival. These folks are doing some amazing work. But is does mean that Look3 is something that I'm proud to say happens in my hometown.
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Tickets to Look3 are already on sale. Get them while you can, here.