The 7th annual FotoWeekDC photography festival launched Friday at its 2014 headquarters, the Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence. The impressive house had a moderate crowd, deafening music, women handing out long-stem red roses—that soon littered radiators and the floor—and kaleidoscoping lights (you probably saw them all over Instagram).
The launch party featured a few formal exhibitions, along with the winners of their annual contest. FotoWeek has often relegated the contest and local content to an afterthought, so it’s not too much of a surprise to find the contest winners exhibited as such. The images were small and poorly printed, pasted onto black foam core and arranged in a grid. The elementary presentation gave the impression that they ran out of time to finish the installation. (Needless to say, they certainly weren’t meant to be seen during the party under dim colored strobe lights; the other exhibits stayed under gallery lighting.)
FotoWeek rebranded their competition this year, limiting it to three categories: Fine Art, Photojournalism, and Photographer’s Choice (read: free-for-all), with each category split between single images and series. A single Curator’s Pick was selected by George Hemphill in Fine Art, Lucian Perkins in Photojournalism, and Jeanne Modderman in Photographer’s Choice, along with five honorable mentions.
The Fine Art Series Curator’s Pick, Kaitlin Jencso, features six images from her body of work Gossamer Thread. The collection of images is derived from Jencso’s relationship with her sister, Hayley, when she moved from their rural Southern Maryland home to Western Montana. The visuals show how their relationship has become increasingly stretched out—a wispy, yet binding web—like a gossamer thread, from Walt Whitman’s poem, A Noiseless Patient Spider. Perhaps the best photo that visually portrays this stretching is One Way To. Taken from a moving car on a Montana highway, Jencso dragged the shutter, literally stretching the imagery—rolling hills, dense cumulus clouds—thinning the objects making some of them transparent.
She describes her work as different from a lot of contemporary photography, as “borderline sentimental, while being simultaneously fearful…. I totally love and cherish my family—they are super important to me—that’s why I think I photograph them so much. Especially with my sister leaving it was that fear of us dissolving. Our connection got a little thinner—it morphed and changed. So I would say that this work is nostalgic and sentimental but it also has violence in it—a bit of aggression, fear. It’s just the two extremes.”
Benjamin Tankersley received an Honorable Mention in Fine Art for his series, Breezewood. Tankersley’s color images have a similar theme and tone to the photographs of William Eggleston or Stephen Shore. To see the images better—because they were way too small, grainy and not color corrected—I went to his website, which also features a more comprehensive series than the selection at FotoWeek Central. His imagery depicts the desolate town of Breezewood, Pennsylvania—a place where people are “just passing through.” Tankersley brings out the eerie emotion of a town that is cold and still, and constantly waiting.
My pick for a best single image is the recipient of a Fine Art Honorable Mention, Joseph Romeo. Star Jet Roller Coaster is a haunting black and white image of the submerged coaster off the shore of Atlantic City after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. While the scene of the partially sunken amusement ride is perhaps one of the most iconic and repeated images from the devastating storm, Romeo’s photograph feels simultaneously present while standing in memory. The ethereal lighting and tone capture the ghost of the Star Jet, standing still, while black birds fly above it and waves crash to the Jersey Shore.
Other exhibits filled the halls and rooms of the Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence. The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus is a fascinating collaboration between photographer Rob Hornstra and writer Arnold van Bruggen. Its presentation at Fotoweek is fantastic—organized well with careful attention to detail from the prints to the frame quality. Hornstra’s entrancing images and Van Bruggen’s captivating writings are the product of a seven year “slow-journalism” narrative that tells the story of Sochi, Russia after it was chosen for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Hornstra’s images are an amalgamation of photojournalism and contemporary landscape, architecture, and portraiture photography. A portrait of Natalya Shorogova—a middle aged Russian woman with tangerine colored hair and frosted pink lipstick with turquoise earrings—represents one of the many floor ladies of the Hotel Zhemchuzhina. The duo pairs the portrait on a single free-standing wall with The beach, Alder, Sochi region, a curious beach scene with brilliant cold greens and blues. Tourists swim and tan on the shore (the two call Sochi “the Florida of Russia”) while others listen to tacky music in an intoxicated stupor. However, an oddity disrupts the vacation spot—the beach is cut short about 20-feet deep, turning into cement stairs and barricades. On the other side of the cement wall are webs of electrical poles for a railway that continues down the street instead of a beach town boardwalk.
Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence
2801 16th St NW Washington, DC 20009
Sat-Sun: 10 am – 6 pm
Mon-Fri: 12 pm – 8 pm