I just returned from a wonderful trip to Amman, Jordan to attend an exhibition of my work on Syrian refugees at the 5th Edition of the Image Festival. I had the immense pleasure of working with the dynamic and unstoppable Linda Al Khoury. She is the organizer of this photo festival and the inspiration behind bringing folks like Josef Koudelka and an array of talented photographers from the Middle East and the Arab world to Jordan, including members from the Rawiya Photo Collective. I also had the opportunity to teach a small workshop to a group of photographers mainly from Amman. Among the participants was a very talented Italian photographer currently living in Amman, Alessio Mamo, who has produced powerful and intimate work on the Syrian refugee migrant crisis.
For the workshop I gave my students a simple assignment: Amman at work. Here is what Alessio came up with in 3 days.
The photo festival circuit, which often includes doing workshops, giving lectures and engaging in other public events, has become an interesting new aspect of my photographic life. It’s something I never anticipated I’d be doing. I’ve always been dedicated to teaching and mentoring, which is something I’ll discuss in more detail in future blog posts, but observing how my photographic work has provided these new opportunities to share my experiences and projects, engage in dialogue, find new audiences and teach and learn from other photographers is deeply rewarding. There is nothing quite like watching people’s minds change as they absorb your work, and the face-to-face encounter is intoxicating and deeply meaningful. Yes we can do it through social media in an unmitigated fashion that was impossible only 5 years ago, but there is no substitute for human contact, hearing and feeling the deep breaths, gasps, cries and smiles of reaction to your work.
Photography and visual communication are fast becoming the lingua franca of modern life. Festivals like the one I just attended in Jordan are testament to the growing audience for photography and the influence of the image on public life and the arts. A place like Amman is new to this kind of experience. The photo community is small and the journalism and documentary fields are especially under-represented in countries like Jordan. Economically it’s very hard to make a living as a photographer, unless you do commercial work or have staff or stringer positions with the photo agencies. This situation makes it all the more important for international photographers to come here and share their work, experience and perspectives. One of the highlights of the festival was the nightly projections of Josef Koudelka’s work on Greek and Roman ruins in the Middle East and beyond. This is a project he has been working on since the early 1990’s. Access to this kind of brilliant photography is what festivals are all about.
Amman has always represented a kind of safe haven to me: in the middle of the incredible turbulence that has gripped the Middle East for so long, Amman presents the opportunity to find peace and calm. My latest visit to this ancient city was no exception. There are many photo festivals around the world known for their notoriety and importance – such as Arles and Perpignan, both in the south of France, and the LOOK3 festival in Virginia (you can click here to see a preview of the talk I’ll be giving at LOOK3 this coming June). But sometimes the smaller festivals offer great opportunities to bring local and international talent together to produce inspiration for visual storytelling and image making. Sharing your passion with a community of people can be very powerful and occasionally a life changing experience.
Here’s a list of some great photo festivals I’d recommend looking into:
- Visa Pour L’Image – Perpignan, France
- LUMIX – Hannover, Germany
- LOOK3 – Charlottesville, USA
- Rencontres Arles – Arles, France
- The AIPAD Photography Show – New York, USA
- Paris Photo – Paris, France
- FORMAT – Derby, England
- Foto Fusion – West Palm Beach, USA
- Flash Forward Festival – Boston, USA
- Palm Springs Photo Festival – Palm Springs, USA
- Riga Photo Month – Riga, Latvia
- CONTACT Photography Festival – Toronto, Canada
- Festival della Fotografia Etica – Lodi, Italy
- Photobiennale – Moscow, Russia
- London Photo Festival – London, England
- Photomed – Toulon, France
- Belfast Photo Festival – Belfast, Northern Ireland
- F/stop Photography Festival – Leipzig, Germany
- Vienna Photobook Festival – Vienna, Austria
- Backlight Photo Festival – Tampere, Finland
- Photoville – New York, USA
- Unseen Photo Fair – Amsterdam, Holland
- Diffusion – Cardiff, Wales
- LagosPhoto – Lagos, Nigeria
- Fotografia Festival Internazionale di Roma – Rome, Italy
- Gulf Photo Plus – Dubai, UAE
- Head On Photo Festival – Sydney, Australia