For most bleary-eyed reporters, 7 a.m. seemed awfully early for a press gathering. Speaking from Moscow Wednesday where it was a more civilized hour (4 p.m.), FotoFest co-founder Fred Baldwin deemd it a "miracle" that so many people had shown up so early at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston for a joint video teleconference spanning two continents.
"But we're in the process of creating another kind of miracle," Baldwin said.
Baldwin and FotoFest co-founder Wendy Watriss joined Russian art and government officials in Moscow at the teleconference organized by RIA Novosti, Russia's largest news agency, and beamed back to Houston, where local officials appeared with Russian contemporary art collector Dasha Zhukova to tout next week's FotoFest international portfolio review.
Nearly 200 photographers from Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus will have their work reviewed by 50 experts from 18 nations at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow Aug. 29-Sept. 2. It is the first time that FotoFest has organized such a review in Russia.
Noting the excitement over the event, Baldwin said that when such a review was held in China a few years ago, around 1,000 photographers vied for the slots. In Russia, more than 2,400 photographers applied.
"This makes it possible for the world to discover the new faces and new photographers from Russia," Baldwin said.
"The idea of the Portfolio Review is to create international world opportunities for young talent and that's what we hope to do," Watriss added. "As you know, Russian photographers led the world in the 1920s and 1930s. There is no lack of talent here."
Some of the Russian photographers discovered at Portfolio Review Russia will show their work in Houston next year at the FotoFest 2012 International Biennial. The theme is Contemporary Russian Photography, Post-war Avante-garde to Today, and exhibits will be held throughout the city March 16-April 29. Activities will also include artist and curator talks, workshops, symposia on Russian photography, the world's largest portfolio review and the international Biennial Fine Print Auction.
Zhukova, the glamorous Russian who founded the Garage Center and is one of the leading collectors of contemporary art in her native country, flew to Houston specifically to drum up support for the project. "It's an exciting opportunity to give so many people a voice," she said.
During her brief visit to the Bayou City, Zhukova, who lived in Houston for a time when she was a youngster, had dinner with friends and visited The Menil Collection, which she said was one of her favorite museums. "I love Surrealism," she said, noting the Menil's extensive collection.
Other Houston panelists included Britt Langford, managing director of Fotofest sponsor JP Morgan Chase, Houston Arts Alliance chairman Marshal Lightman, City of Houston Mayor's Art Liason Minnette Boesel and PaperCity arts writer Catherine Anspon.
RIA Novosti deputy editor-in-chief Alexander Babinsky, Portfolio Review Russia co-organizer Evgeny Berenzer and curator Irina Chmyreva joined Baldwin and Watriss in the RIA Novosti studios. Garage Center for Contemporary Culture director Anton Belov and multi-media artists Tatiana Arzamasova and Evgeny Svyatsky also participated in the discussion from the Moscow museum.