On display at Photoville: Stark exposures of our shared humanity

Wildlife photography from Africa’s savannas, scenes from 45 years of New York City theater, explorations the interconnection of nature and man, an unblinking look at the drug epidemic, a playful celebration of local journalism and countless other compelling themes from around the world are on display across dozens of storage containers beneath the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend — the centerpiece of this year’s Photoville Festival.

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit, which stages outdoor photo shows all year long, just opened their 13th annual mainstage event with new installations throughout the five boroughs. Their Photoville Village, overtaking Emily Roebling Plaza, remains the heart of the action — a must-see spectacle that’ll stay open through the Festival’s final day, on June 16.

This marks Photoville’s second post-pandemic year of hosting its celebration of photography in their iconic makeshift industrial galleries alongside their freestanding photo cubes and new immersive photo triangles.

“Now we have a hybrid model,” Executive Director and Co-Founder Laura Roumanos told Brooklyn Magazine amongst the frenzy of final preparations. “Our festival’s evolved every year.”

This year’s 87 installations, 55 of which are in Photoville Village, all force contemplations about the sheer power that capturing an image can proffer.

From Eugene Richards’s booth of unseen stills depicting sharecroppers in the Arkansas Delta to Tekpatl Kuauhtzin’s photo cube adorned with vignettes of indigenous farming and hunting, the sheer range of Photoville’s offerings inspires stark realizations about our shared humanity across divides.

‘Hollywood Cougar’ by Steve Winter, from Vital Impacts’ group exhibition ‘Our Interconnected World’ (Photo by Vittoria Benzine)

Crowds, including famed photographers like Aundre Larrow, Pei Ketron, career documentarian Ron Foster and Polly Irungu, arrived in droves beneath the sweltering blue skies on Saturday to celebrate the unveiling by perusing the showcases — alongside artist talks, workshops and more. Smorgasburg set up shop on the lawn where the opening night party took place to offer vegan comfort food by Harlem-based Black Rican, inventive french fries by Bed Stuy-based Home Frites, and artisanal grilled cheeses by Astoria-based Toastieland. Photoville Festival sponsors like Leica Cameras and Adobe Lightroom had tents too, offering activities like camera demonstrations and photowalks.

In 2020, Photoville stopped accepting volunteers, opting instead to pay everybody who helps them along the way. Each fall, the team puts out an open call for the next year’s event, and fields thousands of submissions. Every single show across all of Photoville Fest’s exhibitions applied through that call, from independent artists to renowned organizations like ProPublica.

On Saturday, Photoville public engagement manager Koren Martin offered a walking tour of her favorite booths, which included a project called “End of the Line,” where New York transplant Taylor Chapman set out to learn the city by capturing the 44 subway stops at the end of each line. He’s since returned to Houston, but he’s at work on a book about the endeavor. Urban planner Cheryl Miller discussed her 40 year practice photographing joy and resilience in New York’s nook of the African diaspora, amongst her upbeat black and white photography from the 1980s and 1990s.

Photos from Miller’s booth (Photo by Vittoria Benzine)

“I think this work is also an invitation for every one of us to engage with our archives,” Martin noted. “This is a call to action that we need to talk to our elders, we need to talk to the children.”

Interestingly, numerous shows across Photoville Village harness photography for scientific research. Martin brought visitors to see “The Cooling Solution,” where New York-based Gaia Squarci toured climate change hotspots like Venice, Rio de Janeiro and Bali to capture how people thermoregulate, presenting her pictures with infographics that make climate change urgently relatable. Elsewhere, a group show titled “1IN6BY2030” explores Earth’s aging population through portraits of 72-year-olds around the globe, like a Dutchman doing a backflip and a shirtless Spaniard striking a pose.

Exterior view of ‘The Cooling Solution’ (Photo by Vittoria Benzine)

On the whole, the international exhibitions across this year’s Photoville Fest run the full gamut in tone, too — from harrowing, like Stacy Kranitz’s drug-addled Tennessean saga “The Year After a Denied Abortion,” to jocular, like Ann Hermes’ documentation of small-town newsrooms (which also embodies Photoville’s commitment to the rights and import of photojournalists).

Offices of the recently closed Alameda Sun on October 30, 2019, from Hermes’s ‘Local Newsrooms’ (Photo by Vittoria Benzine)

Some showcases transform their settings so much that you forget they’re in shipping containers. “Finding Home,” Gonçalo Fonseca’s project around Afghan refugees keeping their culture and music alive in Portugal, arranges photos on stanzas to create a song. The group show “Witness” offers pen, paper, and mirrors so guests can respond to the show’s views from Black women.

Installation view of ‘Finding Home’ (Photo by Vittoria Benzine)

“Herbolario Migrante (Migrant Herbalism)” by New York and Mexico-based documentary photographer and activist Cinthya Santos Briones — one of the most buzzed-about booths in the entire extravaganza — honors photography’s roots, as well as the traditions of displaced Latinx people. The vibrant lavender walls of her shipping container feature yarn-knit flower arrangements, a display of real medicinal plants, and a series of embroidered early photographs called cyanotypes depicting her botanical subjects.

An embroidered cyanotype in Santos Briones’s exhibition (Photo by Vittoria Benzine)

Stylish visitors like Daijah McDonald of Bed-Stuy and Kavia Gupta of Flatbush made their first-ever treks to Photoville just to attend a much-loved cyanotype workshop by Santos Briones, but soon fell in love with the whole affair.

And you probably will, too. While Roumanos graciously acknowledged Photoville’s peers and supporters like New York’s Public Art Fund and the acclaimed agency Creative Time while showing Brooklyn Magazine around, there’s no other event like Photoville Festival out there that amasses such large swaths of diverse talents in one place, not only to show their work, but to exchange ideas the way they did last weekend.

Photoville Village will stay open for another two weeks, their shows across the other four boroughs will stay up even longer, and there’s more programming in store — from printing sessions and photowalks with Flickr along their seven Seaport installations, to the MFON Global Symposium around Women Photographers of the African Diaspora on June 15. Tickets are free, but moving fast.

The post On display at Photoville: Stark exposures of our shared humanity appeared first on Brooklyn Magazine.

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