Only in its second year, CIRCULATION(S) is a festival dedicated to emerging European photography, held in the rather idyllic setting of the Jardins de Bagatelle in Paris. On opening day, a throng of photography professionals and amateurs alike milled around the two lovely buildings, taking notes and munching Haribo sweets, which was all very jolly. However, what remains from this festival is not just a celebration of contemporary photography (and more on this later), but a true investment in the photo community, with a programme of events spanning the duration of the event, from 25 February until 25 March: free portfolio reviews for young photographers (held on 10 and 11 March), a sale of the works in the exhibition, a game sponsored by Tamron to win some kit, and many other fun and interactive set-ups… In short, even though this festival is a recent addition to the ever-growing festival scene, it’s a dynamic and thoroughly professional one, with some particularly accomplished work on show, selected by various photography organisations such as Fetart (the non-profit set up by Marion Hislen, initiator of the festival itself), SFR Jeunes Talents, curators and special guests.
So, with all this background information securely in place, back to the highlights of my Parisian Haribo-sweetened flânerie… I discovered the work of Alexandra Serrano with great pleasure – a Franco-Mexican artist whose series “Between Finger and Thumb” is a photographic reconstruction of the artist’s most vivid memories. Delicately poised between autobiography and dream-work, the images staged in the artist’s growing-up home are both intimate and immediate, cleanly finished, with fragmented detailed shots of eggshells and bite marks somewhat reminiscent of the work of Rinko Kawauchi interspersed with anodyne home scenes seen through a child-like prism.
Steeped in a more documentary tradition, the work of German photographer Lia Darjes bears a similar attention to detail and lighting. In her project “Converting”, she investigates Muslim converts in Germany: why do German people convert to Islam? How is Islam represented in the West? The series is composed of portraits, still lives, and location scenes, all infused with a painterly light that, strangely, harks back to the Great Masters’ use of holy light in sacred paintings. Calmly, gently, the images draw us in to invite us to ponder the role of religion in Western society.
Equally beguiling, Kurt Tong‘s project, “In Case it Rains in Heaven” is a photographic index of the paper objects burnt by the Chinese at the tombs of their deceased relatives, in order to “send” them the objects they will need in the afterlife: from an umbrella to a pair of servants, from a McDonald’s meal to a scuba-diving kit, everything that can be found in real life is replicated in paper for the afterlife. Tong’s work, as always, manages to bridge the real and the poetic with conceptual elegance.
Finally, young British photographer Matt Wilson showed a series of small images from his travels in the US. Received wisdom might have inclined the artist to display these images as large as possible, but the small format used here gave these desolate yet enchanting vistas a personal and intimate feel rarely seen in this kind of landscape work. In fact it’s both difficult and brave to make American landscape work these days, with artists from Ansel Adams to Joel Sternfeld, and from Edward Weston to Stephen Shore, casting a strong shadow that informs our reading of the images. A horse standing by a broken-down barn, a cigarette lit in twilight flare, overexposed canyons: the scenes are unmistakably American, playing with the trope of the Far West’s deserted melancholy. Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy comes to mind, violence and tenderness, a premature wisdom and truthfulness, erupting to the surface of these images as they do in McCarthy’s words: “The truth is what happened. It aint what come out of somebody’s mouth.”
And upon these wise words, so my visit concludes, with only too little time and space to mention some of the other great work on show, notably, by: David De Beyter, Michel Bousquet, Tony Kristensson, Augustin Rebetez, and Gilles Roudiere. I leave you to discover them in your own time!
Details of the festival are here: http://www.festival-circulations.com/
This article was originally published in Notes from the Undergroud.