By Paula Kupfer
In every sense, the sun shone brightly on Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. As our naturally ventilated automobile (read: no AC) made its way from New York, hundreds of photographers flocked to Virginia for three days of photo discussions, talks, and exhibits at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph. Blame it on my short history of photo festival attendance, or perhaps consider it a testament to the uniqueness of this particular gathering, but Look3 carried a vibe more akin to a summer camp reunion than a meeting of industry professionals. The atmosphere was relaxed, the setting pleasant and casual—the green, Southern town a welcome change of scenery for most city dwellers—and the festival seamlessly organized and smoothly run. Charlottesville’s quiet charm was underscored by the practical layout of the pedestrian plaza, which Look3 attendees and photo exhibitions took over for three days of lively conversations and encounters.
The subject of this year’s festival—the fourth incarnation of Look3—was “home,” and it coursed through the weekend with a force that could only be matched by the desire, on such hot, summer days, to run off the pedestrian plaza and wade into the river. (Arguably the most popular part of the festival, the swimming hole, surrounded with its earthy banks and green foliage, became a drifting haven for Look3 attendants. Camera toting, bathing suit-clad folks gathered on the banks, while small groups floated up and down the stream.)
The theme was especially palpable throughout the talks and slideshow presentations on the festival program: Prom, Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell’s quirky, humorous film, recalled the awkwardness and uncertainty of this ritual celebration, while Gillian Laub’s slideshow about her grandparents brought back memories of our own, crazy uncles. Chris Anderson engaged the audience with photos of his latest project, focused on his family; Ashley Gilbertson passionately reminded his audience of the difficult challenges faced by soldiers returning home from the front lines; and LaToya Ruby Frazier presented a lyrical poem and photographs of her hometown, Braddock, Pennsylvania, and her artistic collaboration with her mother. The eclectic, sincere conversation between Sally Mann and Nan Goldin, probably the most anticipated and memorable of the weekend, turned the stage of the Pavilion Theater into someone’s living room, and us into invisible spectators, witnesses to this most frank of exchanges between two legendary photographers. Among its many twists and turns, the heart-to-heart revealed unexpected affinities between the two strikingly different women.
Photographs and videos of war and conflict were prominent throughout—a different kind of reflection on “home.” The slideshow presentations on the last evening showcased thought-provoking projects by Peter Van Agtmael, presenting visual reportage from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S.; Richard Mosse, juxtaposing footage from military helicopters (à la Wikileaks’s “Collateral Murder”) with screens of war-themed videogames played by recovering soldiers at the Walter Reed Medical Center; and Erin Trieb, combining her own voice with black-and-white photographs to evoke the strenuous return home of a soldier.
Standout satellite exhibitions included Prime Collective’s Prime Show exhibition at Random Row Books, which held an early morning opening enhanced by coffee and pancakes, and Luceo Images’s Altered States: The Way We Live Now at The Bridge Collective Arts Alliance—both showcasing documentary projects by young photographers.
The presentation of Jacob Krupnick’s “Girl Walk//All Day,” a music video of dancer Anne Marsen boogieing her way through New York’s public transport system, closed the festival on a celebratory and lighthearted note. As the film ended, Marsen herself poked her head out from under the projection screen, launching an impromptu dance party amid enthusiastic applause.
Without a doubt, the festival succeeded in capturing the present-day pulse of photography and set high stakes for 2012.
Paula Kupfer is a Brooklyn-based photographer and writer, and the Editorial and Circulation Coordinator for Aperture magazine.