Reaching for the peak

I just returned from attending the 2018 installment of the Mt.Rokko International Photography Festival, my sixth visit as a portfolio reviewer and also to present projects and run a workshop. I join many professional colleagues from the wider photography industry from across the globe as an invited guest with the main purpose – that is, to nurture young and upcoming Japanese photographers create more meaningful projects, strengthen their ability to project a strong story through their picture taking craft, which no doubt, all of them already have brewing inside them.

[ Also link to same post in Japanese at http://www.rokkophotofestival.com ]

The festival, headed by its visionary director Takeki Sugiyama, a surgeon by profession, and totally passionate for the ‘meaning behind every photograph’, who is also an avid collector himself, is run with typical Japanese efficiency when it comes to scheduling and timekeeping, and a certain familiarity that is unique to Mt.Rokko. The volunteer team and staff already feel like family after the very first visit.

Photos by Melanie McWhorter & Chikara Komura

Held partly in downtown Kobe for the exhibitions and having the reviews in close-quarter up at Mt.Rokko, makes for an interesting long weekend for the guests and photographers, but slightly inconvenient for day visitors wanting to participate in the workshops or presentations. However, I feel that this arrangement is already being addressed over the last two years to make the festival more accommodating.

Over the years in coming to Kobe, I have gained many connections and friends in the photography world, and have also opened my eyes to contemporary Japanese photography – it’s highly aesthetic based imagery, and the very important link to nature, family and tradition. I speak of course in general terms, and there are photographers who also make non-conformist projects that surprise.

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For Mt.Rokko, I believe that it has steadily gained the reputation of being a tight-knit photo community, and being a ‘portfolio review centered’ festival, it has the advantage of fully catering to photographers seeking to maximise their exposure in gaining valuable feedback through the expertly selected workshop mentors and international reviewers. Because of the proximity of the venues and the ability of the photographers to access the reviewers throughout the weekend, there are ample opportunities for casual conversations to happen – and I believe, even more for future installments – that these downtimes are vital to allow honest exchanges on a one to one basis, in addition to the scheduled reviews.

An advantage of being a small festival, the manageable numbers also help enhance the ‘community spirit’ and camaraderie of the participating photographers who come from all over Japan, and overseas as well, and I feel this is very important, especially for first- time reviewees, and more introvert photographers, and a unique feature for Mt.Rokko.

I have been following the progress of several photographers who attended the early installments of the festival and can happily say that many of them have gained new exposure of their projects and have gone on to win international awards, recognised in festivals or have exhibitions in galleries outside Japan. I can safely say that having attended Mt.Rokko previously, played an important part in their successes.

Since 2013, Mt.Rokko festival has been much praised for their purposeful and beneficial portfolio reviews and even as we had a smaller participation size this year, the variety and standard of projects presented were of greater depth and subject matter. This may be due to the stricter pre-selection process imposed by Takeki Sugiyama, the director to improve the overall photographic standard being presented to the international reviewers.

Part of the reason for attending a festival like Mt.Rokko and its portfolio review sessions is to make new connections with the greater photographic world, with international reviewers and also other photographers from Japan and overseas. Many opportunities can present themselves to participants – especially where their projects are unique or strong, and also where the participant makes the effort to communicate and interact in open discussions or during Q&As at the presentations.

I have known several past participants who have submitted entries to the Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards and have been successful in becoming finalists and also went on to be recognised in other awards and festivals. I am glad to see this happen. I am also seeing participants who have been awarded for their projects that have become stronger and more meaningful in their edits, over the years.

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The importance of education – that is, not only by the formal way but through personal development by gaining knowledge through experience and interaction, is vital to any photographer who seeks to advance and elevate his or her craft, both technically and artistically. Portfolio reviews are an effective exercise in receiving critical feedback and guidance in a photographer’s journey for deeper self-expression. I am grateful and honoured for being able to be a part, however small, of this journey with the Mt.Rokko participants.

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Just Portraits

I’m currently in Kuala Lumpur, having attended the Mt Rokko Photo Festival last weekend as a reviewer (I will write an in-depth post about that amazing festival shortly), and I just had fantastic KLPA awards and exhibition, celebrating 10 years of the awards. The last weeks had been incredible,  making new connections with creative people and seeing many interesting photo projects, especially from young photographers, or even non-creative people attempting their first photo projects.

Meanwhile, I shot a few portraits below in preparation for a Street Portrait workshop this coming Saturday with my ‘new’ Nikon 1 V1 camera I got from Facebook Marketplace last month for a mere £100!

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Nadirah Zakariya

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Prakash Daniel

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Elena Herrero

Carnival Glimpses

Having missed the last 4 carnivals over the Bank Holiday weekend, this year I made a quick visit on the main day which is on the Monday, a holiday in the UK.  Here are a few images from the day.

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Grafitti Street

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The Nottinghill Carnival begins tomorrow but the big board-up began in earnest this Saturday evening on the main roads and side streets around the carnival route. As soon as one shop front is boarded up, the packs of graffiti artists with multi-coloured spray cans in hand would begin their artistry. More businesses and private homes have chosen to board up their frontages in anticipation of the huge crowds over the 2 days.

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Past Present Italy

Italy has a certain style and elegance that cannot truly be captured in pictures. The mix of culture, food, fashion, architecture, religion and a legacy so steeped in significant European history has culminated in a rich, thick, gravy of sensory and visual delights for photographers.

I was going through my archives in search of staircase pictures recently (see Simply Stairs ) and discovered several collections of images I have taken over the years in Rome, Venice, Tuscany and elsewhere.  I managed to select these to illustrate what I mean. It is also different from France, another country which I have visited a lot.

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Featured Artist : Liza Ambrossio

Journey to Rome ~ Traversing the ominous to conquer the darkness

(You know what they say about London buses, wait for one and three turns up. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to feature three amazing photographers recently, and this is the third.)

Donning a baseball cap and wearing a bright yellow t-shirt, she smiled and said hello to me at the Camucia-Cortona train station. She was the only person smiling in the 30c heat, and introduced herself. Then I recall seeing her at the Cortona-On-The-Move festival but apologised that I had not talked with her during the last three days. She showed me her photo book The Rage of Devotion, a recent winner at Arles, and it clicked. This is Liza Ambrossia. Our journey to Rome took slightly longer than 2 and a half hours, so we chatted about her awards, projects, her book and about life in general. She was also trying to arrange accommodation in Rome at the same time. She kindly offered me plums from her landlady’s garden.


 

Q. You have just completed your ‘festival’ tour in Europe where you have been awarded a couple of major prizes, the FNAC Talent Award 2018 for your series Blood Orange and also at Arles, scooping the best photobook prize from the Voies Off Awards with The Rage of Devotion. I’d like to wish you many congratulations on receiving these prizes. Thank you for saying hello to me at Camucia-Cortona railway station and showing me your book, otherwise, I would not have discovered your wonderful work!

The success of your works depends on the amazing esoteric imagery that you produce, and the non-linear approach to editing your projects into fantastic, almost dream-like stories. How do you inspire yourself to create these images? Do you have a set formula following the story outline, or do you make the images randomly and put together at a later stage?

LA : Free association is the key to my line of work, a psychological process that gives independence to creativity in a mental state of emancipation directly related to the emotional state of the person who practices it. What we manage to retain from life not only from photography has to do with three essential points according to my criteria, what can be seen, what we want to see and what is revealed to us. To this I adhere structures of my contradictory personality: ease to live and radical when it comes to projecting stories.

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Q: During our two and a half hour train ride to Rome, we chatted about many things – UFO’s, chupacabras, demons, death, eagles, snails, narco killings, Manila, Marcos, about your childhood and the scholarship you gained in Spain. Your influences to your work are clearly derived from many experiences and circumstances in your life and travels, growing up in Mexico and Spain. However, the overall theme of your works is about identity, longing and a sense of regret, I feel. Is there any truth in this, and are your photographs a sort of self-reflection or examination of your personal journey as an artist, always in search of the unreachable?

LA : Extraordinary memory yours, my dear friend … But I must emphasize that from my perspective my work does not speak of repentance; but speaks of revenge, of madness, of the monstrous thing that lives in our souls and how to reach freedom after destroying the universe in which chance has placed us (family, religion, homeland, name or physical). I intend for my work to be what I am as a person, someone who believes that social structures are a drag on imagination and growth. My work talks about what I have lived, suffered, loved, hated, dreamed and desired. I am not afraid to speak with my images of my dark, comedic or immoral inclinations. My ambition is to achieve the greatest freedom that the religion of art can give me.

 

 

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Q. You write that ‘reality is overrated and fantasy underrated…”. The imagery of your works can be said to be ‘Lynch-ian’ in some respects, even nightmarish. eg. the arm with snails, the eagle eating the frail hatchling, and the numerous masked faces in The Rage. Is there a sense that you wish to provoke a reaction, any reaction from your viewers, that leads them to question your work or the images are purely to illustrate the concepts that you have to tell your story effectively, (ie. not caring about your viewers).

LA : Artists like me are beings led by demons and we are aware that these demons also observe us (the spectators). I like to write, make videos, images, tell stories, talk to strangers, the football and travel like a dog without a house as if I did not have tomorrow. I am an extremely passionate and passionate person for love and hate, to celebrate and to desolate, to live. I grew up in an atmosphere of chaos and exhausted my childhood and adolescence in that triangle of self-destruction; I currently know that there are many images that I already have inside and when I find them I collect them knowing that I am showing my demons. Demons with the ability to scare or fascinate.

Q. You also write that you are searching for the ‘transgressive aesthetic of the strange and the ‘every day’. I think you have succeeded in many ways, looking at your works in Blood Orange and The Rage. What is your next project and will you continue with this aesthetic, or perhaps go in a new direction altogether?

LA : My aesthetic continues to grow and is increasingly derived from film and short films because it is a language in which I recognize myself more. Although I will continue to make photobooks. My next project will talk about another dark moment in my life, suicide a personal complex because my father committed it and I could address it in a different way by living a few weeks in Switzerland two years ago when I discovered that deciding to die is a legal and even possible human right to pay. So I’m generating an optimistic opinion around the subject, in a project that will not take long to hang on my website more than a couple of months.


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LIZA AMBROSSIO, Rome Termini, July 2018 © Steven Lee

www.lizaambrossio.com

BIO

(B. in Mexico City, Mexico) Liza Ambrossio is a Mexican artist who lives and produces in Madrid, Spain. Winner of Voies Off award 2018 prize of the photography meetings in Arles, France, she is the winner of the FNAC New Talent Award, Spain, 2018; and the Discoveries award 2017 of the PHotoEspaña festival and La Fábrica. Her body of work mixes macabre archive photographs with cryptic paintings, performance, intervention, videos, psychology, nightmares, science fiction and witchcraft that unites by free association.

Liza’s work has been published on the network of Center of the image (Mexico City), Fototazo (Colombia-United States), Espacio Gaff (Mexico-Venezuela) and L’Oil de la Photographie (France). Liza has been granted a scholarship to study production residences in Iceland and the United States (2017). She has been selected as a finalist in the 50 best young promises of the Emerging Talent of Lens Culture 2016 in Amsterdam, Holland and selected in New Visions 2018 of the Cortona On The Move festival, Italy. In March 2018 she presented her first photo book ‘The anger of devotion’ (The Rage of Devotion) edited by Desiertas Ediciones (México) and La Fabrica (Spain) within the Fotofest of Houston, Texas, United States.

Brunch with Herlinde Koelbel

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I was in New Zealand recently, attending the Auckland Festival of Photography, by a kind invitation from festival director Julia Durkin. In its 15th year, the festival is well established and featured over 100 gallery exhibitions, international presentations, workshops and portfolio reviews. The festival center is located at Silo Park, where the specially curated thematic ‘Control’ exhibitions were held, literally in two giant disused concrete silos and a metal gantry in the surrounding open space by the water’s edge.

That was where I met Herlinde Koelbel, the respected German photographer known for her lifelong portraits of Angela Merkel and her series ‘Jewish Portraits’. In Auckland, Herlinde was showing her recent project Targets, part of the Control theme, as noted in the program  :

     “For years Herlinde Koelbl travelled around the world, and in a total of thirty countries, made photographs of the military targets used in the training of soldiers. As icons with which the various armies of the world learn the craft of war, everyone considers himself to be on the right side. In the reality of war, the soldiers themselves are always ultimately the target. For Koelbl, it was thus obvious that exhibited beside the mechanical targets are portraits of the soldiers – for they are the living targets.”

I spent my first morning in Auckland enjoying a delicious brunch with her in a cafe on North Wharf and snapped this portrait. We chatted about her project and discovered she had traveled to many countries, liaising with their militaries and consulates to gain access to their training and practice locations to photograph. Encountering obstacles and being passed from one department to another she nevertheless obtained permission in many of the prominent nations. ‘Targets’ attempt to show the ultimate futility in armed conflicts, the power play and arms race amongst nations. By portraying and comparing methodologies and practice targets used in various militaries, a powerful insight about the ‘art of killing’ and the soldiers trained to do so, only to discover that they are the very targets that the others are being trained to kill.

www.herlindekoelbl.com

Looking ahead

Finally, decided to unleash Kipper on a stretch of secluded beach for the first time. He’s a runner and won’t recall easily, even with the temptation of doggie snacks. In the parks, this is not possible unless there are enclosed free run areas.

Featured Portrait : Alana for TransLiving

 

 

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Spent Sunday afternoon photographing Alana Eissa for an upcoming feature for TransLiving International, a publication about the transgender community. This is the second portrait session I have been involved with the magazine.