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Friday Preview: Four Surprises in Store at Photoville

By David Schonauer   Thursday May 31, 2012

The first annual Photoville photography festival gets underway later this month, on June 22 in Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn. The event won’t resemble most photo festivals, in which art is displayed in existing gallery spaces. This will be something more like a photographic village, with exhibitions, lectures, and workshops held in and around what are officially called “Foto/Pods,” but are actually shipping containers. The idea is to create a community where people can mix, stroll, and enjoy themselves while they take in photography, says the festival’s organizer, Sam Barzilay, who is also creative director of Brooklyn-based arts cooperative United Photo Industries. “I wanted to make it appealing for a wide audience, not just photo professionals,” says Barzilay. “What’s the point in preaching to the converted?”

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       The event amplifies Brooklyn’s unique status as a photo destination—it almost goes without saying that Photoville will feature a beer garden, and of course a dog run—but you could also say the idea for it was born far to the west, in small-town America. Barzilay, a native of Athens (Greece, not Georgia) who came to the U.S. to study photography, recalls taking a road trip through the hinterlands of Kentucky and being impressed by the friendliness of the people and the sense of community he encountered. He likens Photoville to a country fair. The use of shipping containers as gallery spaces, which Barzilay also tried at the DUMBO Arts Festival, helps recreate the informal nature (and fun) of such fairs. “Instead of rides, you get art,” he says.

       Besides encouraging the feeling of a photographic community, Barzilay sees the festival as a way to advance the mission of United Photo Industries, which is to showcase talented photographers who are under-represented in traditional gallery spaces. Barzilay is one of those lucky people who found out more or less by accident what he should be doing in life—studying to become a photojournalist, he realized instead that he was better at discovering and curating work than making his own pictures. “It was a sobering realization,” he says, “but I’m glad I learned that about myself.”

          While organizing the festival, Barzilay has also been scouting out photographers to feature in his own UPI exhibition. “Obviously the first step in putting on a festival like this is thinking about which artists and photographers should be there,” he says. “It’s a balancing act. You want to make sure you’ve got major artists involved, and then you can start looking at different people—and hopefully that’s where you can surprise people.” Here, Barzilay gives Pro Photo Daily readers a preview of four surprises he’s lined up for Photoville.

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JOSH LEHRER

“Through no fault of their own, curators often end up featuring familiar work simply because it’s what they know,” says Barzilay. How do you avoid that trap? “Luck plays a big part,” he acknowledges. Recently, for instance, Barzilay discovered photographer Josh Lehrer’s portraits of homeless, transgendered teens. “I was looking at his website and thinking, ‘I should really call this guy,’ and before I had the chance, I got a call from him. He had seen our website, and he wanted to be exhibited at the event.” The work, which has been featured at the Robert Miller Gallery, is often done with alternative processes such as cyanotype. “It’s really beautiful, and very emotional work,” says Bazilay.

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 LORIE NOVAK

 You would not call Lorie Novak an unknown photographer—her name is familiar to generations of photographers who recognize Novak as an artist and professor of photography and imaging at New York University. But Barzilay was surprised recently when he learned that she lives across the street from the UPI gallery space in DUMBO. Since the late 1990s, Novak has been collecting the front section of the New York Times, which she has mined for a project focusing on the afterlife of images. Barzilay will be displaying the heap of newspapers—close to 5,000 in all—in one of the festival’s Foto/Pods. “It’s about the physicality of the news and the experience of looking at pictures,” he says.

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CANDACE GAUDIANI

San Francisco-based fine-art photographer Candace Gaudiani’s “Between Destinations” project reflects on a past era of travel—and wonderment. Gaudiani photographed the vast and various landscapes of the continental United States through the windows of passenger train cars. “Her images use the windows as framing devices, and I had the idea that if we put them up against wall of the shipping container and spotlighted them, it would seem like you were looking through the container at all these incredible landscapes,” says Barzilay. Gaudiani’s train images are also featured in a new book published by Kehrer Verlag.

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ALEXANDROS LAMBROVASSILIS

Since 2007, Greek photographer Alexandros Lambrovassilis has been documenting Ellinikon International Airport in Athens—the now-abandoned facility that, as Barzilay notes, “really brought Greece into the modern world” when it was built in the middle of the last century. The aim of Lambrovassilis’s project is to promote the site’s preservation as an artifact of civil aviation history, but for Barzilay the work is a timely symbol of Greece’s current financial and political turmoil. “It stands as a derelict in the second-most-expensive area of Athens,” he says. “These are very lyrical, very quiet images of abandonment.”

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