“Last year someone described the festival as a country fair, only for photography,” said Tim Raphael in the fairy-lit Beer Garden of Photoville, which opened on Wednesday evening. “Only this country fair is under the Brooklyn Bridge and instead of pigs on parade with the biggest ball of string in the country, you get to see the work of some of the greatest photographers in the world.”
Returning to Dumbo for its sixth year, Photoville features more than 500 artists and 75 exhibitions in a pop-up village of shipping containers. “We really want to show how powerful photography is,” said Laura Roumanos, the co-founder of the Brooklyn-based nonprofit United Photo Industries, which organizes the annual show.
The opening night kicked off with Talking Eyes Media, VII and Rutgers University-Newark’s collaborative film series “Newest Americans,” about immigration and American identity on the “most diverse” university campus in America. The short films showed a fight school keeping young immigrant boys off the streets, a group of hijab-wearing girls embracing their feminism, and Marisol Conde-Hernandez, a 23-year-old undocumented law student who makes a case for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“There are ways in which you can use your US citizenship, your voices, your vast array of privileges,” appealed Conde-Hernandez to the crowd, “not just for Daca recipients, but for all afflicted and marginalized groups.”
It’s not just the Beer Garden that’s politically charged. Throughout the neon-highlighted sprawl photographers explore themes of race, gender, violence, politics, aid and terrorism, drawing attention to some of the biggest news stories this year. “We just asked; what do we want to see? What are the pressing issues at the moment?” Roumanos explains.
A recent addition was “Charlottesville & Beyond,” featuring the work of five photojournalists who captured the violent “Unite the Right” demonstrations in Virginia on August 11. Under the images are handwritten logs: “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!”
Others quote counter-protesters like Antonio Mitch, an African American photographed in the days after the violence with his hands in prayer. “I came out to make a stand for my people.”
The United Nations Development Programme collaborated with the Eritrean-Swedish photojournalist Malin Fezehai for a series titled “Stories of Survivors.” In it, the power of human perseverance in the face of adversity spans survivors of violent extremism from different ethnic backgrounds, religions and countries.
The New York Times staff photographer Josh Haner captured climate change and the wave of refugees fleeing their communities in his exhibition “Carbon’s Casualties.” Roumanos liked that pitch so much that she “said yes before he’d even finished his sentence.”
Refinery 29 brought a global discussion on body positivity to the table, featuring six female photographers in their exhibit “Body Talk,” while National Geographic worked with Lynn Johnson to challenge gender assumptions in the show “Redefining Gender.” Nat Geo featured Avery Jackson, a transgender nine-year-old girl on the cover of their January issue, “Gender Revolution,” this year.
The Pulitzer Center curated their outdoor show “Widowhood” on the walls of Brooklyn Bridge Park, showcasing the work of former White House photographer Amy Toensing. The show captured women in nations where being a widow means being marginalized in society.
Other photographers were hopeful. “Extraordinary Women in West Africa,” by the Senegal-based French-born Syvain Cherkaoui, presents an uplifting story of five women helping others succeed in their communities. “It’s about struggle, fight, resistance, it’s about a lot of ideas that are universal,” the photographer explains.
On four-foot high Emergicubes dotted around the village, the editors of the The New York Times Lens blog, James Estrin and David Gonzalez, curated the work of emerging photographers. Anthropologist Cinthya Santos-Briones’s photographs, “Abuelas: Portraits of the Invisible Grandmothers,” capture undocumented New Yorkers who send money back to their families in Mexico.
Other exhibits are more tactile, like the ice-cool Americana RV with floral curtains, photographs on the wall and scrapbooks on the table that you can pick up and flick through. This project, by the award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv, Dr. Lauren Walsh and writer Robert Peacock, is the nostalgia-inducing “Lost Rolls America,” a collection of never-before-seen film photographs sent in by the public. Once the rolls are developed the photographer writes about their reactions to seeing the images for the first time.
“I started Lost Rolls America to help people get these captured memories out of their film,” explained Haviv. “We’ve used it as a call to action to do something different from other rescue film projects. We are not interested in the best photographs but the writing and what it means to you.”
Walsh added, “We have some really poignant stuff, like a mother who wrote in about a picture of a five year old girl who says she’s a teenager now and I never see her so gleefully happy all the time,” she explained. “Others are images of people who have passed away, so they are very heartfelt and sad. And then you also get these really sweet, happy ones.”
Similarly, the Dutch fine-art magazine Ordinary went for a three-dimensional supermarket display, featuring 20 artists from around the world. They transformed everyday objects into extraordinary things; jam jars with printed portraits for labels, detergent and plastic bottles with alternative stickers.
Photoville will run from September 13-17 and 21-24 with a series of panel discussions, lectures, live performances and documentary screenings. New York magazine presents “The 43-Day Fashion Shoot” tonight and tomorrow, and The New York Times will be speaking to the public about their legendary photography.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Lost Rolls America in one instance.