Written by Pedro Meyer   










I was invited to attend FotoFest once again this year. It's usually in my capacity as a "reviewer of portfolios". I am not sure if this is accurate, but I think the idea of reviewing portfolios was born at FotoFest, if not, then they surely elevated this practice to a fine art, which then has been imitatated the world over by other festivals. But be that as it may, what happens at FotoFest is very worthy for all those involved, in every sense of the word.


A photographer taking his work to be reviewed by a cadre of people who are in a position to not only offer advice and critique, but also to invite the artists to publish (like in our case for ZoneZero), exhibit, or even buy their work (which we also did) is something quite special. Although the price for participating in these reviews is not cheap if you add in all the costs of transportation and staying in Houston, it certainly is a fraction of the cost of what it would take both in time and money to find such contacts if the artist were to seek each and everyone of the people they asked to be reviewd by at FotoFest on their own. In that sense having your work reviews at FotoFest is a real bargain. The test of how practical this process is, can be seen by how many of those photographers who made it to FotoFest one time, returned for the next event as well.


The reviewing of portfolios is a very intense task, you only have 20 minutes before you need to move on the next person. However I found that you can accomplish a great deal in such a short period of time. Photographers have also learned how to prepare their own portfolios so that one can get down to business right away. In that sense the digital age has ushered in an entire array of solutions that are very practical for such purposes as presenting your work to others. As a reviewer one leaves Houston with a trunk full of materials that each photographer leaves behind as a reference to their work and a trunk full of new friends who also share in our passion for photography. Nadia, my partner, helped me in reviewing the portfolios, contributing with her vision as a woman, and from the vantage point of her generation. This mix, I think, brought a lot of benefit to those who we were reviewing. As we usually saw things that complemented each other.


Houston's FotoFest was this year one of the best I have attended, the organization was better than ever. With a relatively small staff, I was impressed how everything ran so smoothly and all the photographers could be there in time for their meeting and no one was lost in the process. With so many people participating, this was no small feat to accomplish.


Dozens of exhibitions in the evenings was a bit of an overload for me. After looking intensely at pictures all day long, having a respite from looking at even more images during the evening was something that my eyes sorely needed, however that was not to be. I simply could not do justice to all the exhibitions we visited in the evening tours. However, I am sure not everyone felt like that.


A number of the photographers reviewed came with portfolios that were over intellectualized. Their images were not up to their ideas, or the ideas came as an afterthought to work that had already been done and they were simply super imposing ideas to justify their images. I was quite surprised at the level of solitude expressed in much of the work we saw. This solitude many times was not even consciously expressed in the pictures, it just came through and upon further deliberation with the artist whose work one was looking at, they were surprised that this was even visible in their work. After all the driving force behind all of our image making has strong connections to our personal life experiences, so why would one be surprised? But that is what happened. I found that it was women who came through with the clearest ideas on their work.


Also noticeable was the fact that even though digital technology was to be seen all over the place, there were far and few between, that actually used the creative opportunities that digital technologies have to offer. Digital technology was used more as a tool to service analog mind sets, rather than to open a new direction based on the potential of digital technology. I attribute that to the slow pace at which new technologies are actually adopted by the generations who started out their careers using film. I suppose FotoFest in 2020 will be very different to 2006. Digital technologies do not enjoy the reputation or recognition that is now offered to silver halide prints. This ironic twist in photography which was always considered to be the poor cousin to the arts, has now been bestowed upon digital prints. But as we know, these ideas change in time as well, and there is little use wasting time in debating such arguments. The notion that you can have digital prints that can outlast silver prints is something that so far has not been sufficiently understood. The fact that you have a wider gamut in printing, both in papers as well as tonal range, between ink jet prints and silver halides, is also something that will take time to be fully recognized. In the meantime, the effort that we could see by many photographers, was to show their work prints in digital, and their "good prints" in silver halide.


The FotoFest event, is a great window to see the current state of affairs in USA photography. Of course it is not the only window, but it sure is a good one. We took snapshots of all those photographers we reviewed to keep track of so many faces we got to see in a very short time. We were surprised in the age groups and racial construct of most of the attendees. I am convinced that this was no deliberate choice by any one other than the photographers who decided to participate in the review process. In the end the fact that the reviewing of portfolios has been imitated all over the world, insures us that there is a fair representation of photographers on all continents that get to have their work seen and commented upon.


We were very glad to have had the opportunity to see a lot of interesting new work, that we will bring you in ZoneZero over the coming year. Stay tuned.


Pedro Meyer











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