Blog: Inspiration Between the Lines

Q&A with Photoville

As the outdoor photo festival Photoville approaches a decade of presenting work by a diverse and international range of photographers, its role as a leader in making art accessible to the public continues to grow. With Photoville now in Los Angeles as well as New York, The Fence outdoor gallery program expanding to 11 cities, and an exhibition now on view celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, its mission is perhaps even more relevant. 

Dedicated to public art, community building, and photography education, Photoville’s commitment to creating accessible platforms for meaningful dialogue through photography seems poised to meet this particular moment—one where social distancing and productive discourse are essential. Read on to learn more about the organization, their plans for Photoville 2020, and Earth in Focus, now on view in Upstate New York. 

Photoville LA 2019 © Jessica Bal, Image courtesy of Photoville

 

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Although many photo enthusiasts and industry professionals are familiar with Photoville, United Photo Industries—the engine behind the photography festival founded in 2012—is probably lesser known. Tell us about your recent decision to merge the two organizations under the Photoville brand?

PHOTOVILLE: Perhaps the best way to answer this is to look back at the very beginning. Nine years ago, we were just starting out on our journey, and we were searching for a name that we felt would demonstrate our work ethic and hopes of bringing all parts of the photography world under one big tent, a scaffolding enterprise that could grow to support countless, diverse projects. So United Photo Industries was born, and that was how we introduced ourselves to the world. 

In our very first yea,r we simultaneously launched The Fence, our gallery space, and of course our annual festival, Photoville! With the festival originally envisioned as one of several projects we would be undertaking year-round, we felt it was important to differentiate it in name from the organization itself. But as it grew in size and clout with each passing year, becoming one of the largest photography gatherings in the world, we realized that “Photoville” was our calling card. It’s how most people identify us, so it was time to embrace it and use this opportunity to gather as a team, cast a critical look at our first 9 years, evaluate our successes and challenges, and plan a course for the next decade ahead with a renewed focus.

We came to realize that the festival was actually a visual representation, and a shorthand, for people to understand what we do year-round. Producing public art in unexpected places, building community and collaboration, creating opportunities for education and professional development. These happen year-round with all of our exhibitions and events. So why not connect it all with one name, so people know who we are and how they can participate in what we do.

To be honest, this realignment of our public identity has been a long time coming and has been a bit of an inside running joke. Over the years, we would often introduce ourselves as United Photo Industries, only to be met by a slightly puzzled look, which would be our cue to say “you may know us as Photoville,” which would always lead to that instantaneous moment of recognition and excitement of “Oh, Photoville! We love it, we’ve gone every year, with our friends and their dog,” and so on. 

Photoville NY 2019 © Jessica Bal, Image courtesy of Photoville

 

DUGGAL ART SCENE: In some ways, the outdoor formats of the annual Photoville festivals in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and The Fence, a year-round outdoor public photography project, are well suited for social distancing restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the plans for your 2020 festivals, upcoming Fence installations, and your recent open call for the Earth in Focus exhibition, celebrating Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary, in Upstate New York? 

PHOTOVILLE: During this unimaginable time of the pandemic, our organization has had to reassess and adjust everything that we do—sometimes daily—just like countless other individuals and organizations. We think of it as hoping for the best and planning for the worst.   

Our original intention in creating all of our outdoor public art projects and festivals was to be able to reach the widest possible audience. And yet, in our “new normal” of needing to avoid gatherings of any kind, those same projects have proven themselves to be just as suited for socially-distant outdoor viewing.

And so we move forward! Photoville 2020 is in the works with outdoor exhibitions planned in all five boroughs throughout the city. The Photoville Fence will soon be rolling out its 9th edition, and will be on view in 11 cities, with the addition of New Orleans, and the Fargo metro area in North Dakota. Just a few days ago, we installed a series of eight PhotoTriangles featuring the work chosen for the Earth in Focus exhibition, on the grounds of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Upstate NY, just in time for the Center’s re-opening as Upstate enters Phase 4 of the re-opening plan. The exhibit looks fantastic and our team was so excited to see people enjoy this visual celebration of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.

Photoville NY 2019 © Jessica Bal, Image courtesy of Photoville

 

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Tell us about some of the education programs run by Photoville, the non-profit that shares the festival’s name. What is the importance of cultivating photography educators? Have the global social justice protests inspired by George Floyd impacted your thinking on photography education?

PHOTOVILLE: Photoville organizes education programs for both young people and their educators. Our education programs started off with hosting a large annual field trip to the festival for middle and high schoolers to experience an inside look at the exhibitions. Over 4,000 students have attended this field trip over the last 8 years, and by far, everyone’s favorite part is the direct connection between young people and artists. 

We realized that educators were crucial to deepen this connection and bring this experience back to the classroom, so we developed programming to support educators. Our Educator Labs bring teachers and artists together to collaborate on photo-based lesson plans, which are freely accessible in our Resource library. As the Resource library has grown, we launched an Educator Grant for teachers to receive support to implement these lesson plans with their students and to create a public culminating exhibition. 

Our education program continues to evolve by considering what our community of artists, educators and young people needs and how we can connect them together. During the last few months of quarantine, we were able to commission 11 virtual artist talks, and host bimonthly Zoom Coffee Hours for educators to support one another in navigating distance learning. 

The rich conversations at Coffee Hour, particularly around the George Floyd protests, highlight the important role that photo educators play in encouraging and equipping young people to document and tell their truth about the world around them, as well as picture the world they want to see. 

Photoville NY 2019 © Jessica Bal, Image courtesy of Photoville

 

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, many of your projects and programs revolve around the concept of public art. What is the importance of public art and how do you see it expanding in the future? 

 

PHOTOVILLE: Now, more than ever, it’s clear that public art is an invaluable component of hope, social change, discovery, and enlightenment. Artists answer the call to create passionate work that reflects our lives on all levels. These creative voices need a platform to be viewed, listened to, and to inspire meaningful discussions. That can only be accomplished through exhibition spaces that feel accessible to all. We firmly believe that art needs to be accessible to everyone, and that is why we’ve put so much energy over the years into producing outdoor exhibitions by so many amazing photographers and visual storytellers. Our focus must remain firmly on activating as many spaces as possible in the public realm, especially in underserved areas. Only by supporting and exhibiting diverse artists and removing barriers to access for the viewing public can we continue to move forward as a society. 

For information on the exhibition Earth In Focus, celebrating 50 years of Earth Day, visit: www.bethelwoodscenter.org/earth-in-focus

For information on Photoville visit: www.photoville.com/about-the-festival

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