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Scenes from FotoFest 2010 Biennial: The Meeting Place Portfolio Review

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Photo by Jenny Antill
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Courtesy of Michael Tummings Photography, Munich, Germany
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Courtesy of Beau Comeaux Photography
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Among the most successful and ground-breaking programs of the FotoFest Biennial is the Meeting Place Portfolio Review, which takes place through April 1.

The Meeting Place is the largest, most international program of its kind and presents an unparalleled opportunity for photgraphic artists to present their work to some of the most significant professionals in the field from around the world - museum curators, gallery owners, magazine editors, representatives of photography agencies, collectors and publishers.

At a time when the international art market has fallen from its pedestal, FotoFest's Meeting Place lays claim to the art world's future in photography and digital media.

The event has become a launching pad for many careers.  Over the course of the 16-day event, over 150 professionals from the U.S. and 20 other countries review the work of 500 artists.  The FotoFest Biennial has originated the modern portfolio review and established a format that has been copied and replicated across the world, form China to Brazil, and from Portland, Oregon to Madrid, Spain.

The Meeting Place offers four sessions of four day reviews; photographers are guaranteed a minimum of four formal appointments per day in addition to informal reviews.  Portfolios need not relate to this year's general Biennial theme of contemporary U.S. photography, but instead reflect a world of artistic voices.

Interested individuals may visit the artists and work featured here at "Evenings with the Artists" events on Friday, March 19, 26 and 31, 7-9 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel Houston Downtown. Curatorial dialogues precede open discussion with the artists.

The UK-born Michael Tummings now works and lives between Berlin and Munich, Germany, and has embarked on his first visit to FotoFest.  A documentarian of modern fringe societies, Tummings has previously covered contemporary South African nomads and Himalayan goat herders.  In his portfolio, Tummings tackles social issues ranging from poverty and racial division to nature and the environment.  Through sustained immersions into these cultures, he lends an anthropological sensitivity to his work.

To document his most recent series, Tummings knocked on the doors of anonymous cabins in the Bavarian countryside and embedded himself within the families he encountered.  His aim is to portray the "hidden" family unit through its ritualistic practices.  Tummings' photographs of rural England, Norway, Romania, and now Germany, shed light on an old Europe, seemingly untouched by globalization and an increasingly connected European Union.  Tummings edits his images digitally and prints them himself on an inkjet printer, but he cites his inspiration in the painting of Old Masters.  Indeed, his haunting scenes of standing male figures evoke the work of 17th and 18th century Spanish court painters Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya.

"Bavaria," (detail)

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to rid Manhattan of all signs of off color nightlife, but burlesque is back.  Dottie Lux (right) is one of several New York-based performers that Leland Bobbé has photographed and interviewed for his neo-burlesque project.  In the past, documentation of burlesque performers has been limited to campy pin-up photography and behind-the-scenes images, but Bobbé saw a gap in the production of serious studio portraits.  Shown here with his wife and artistic partner, Robin, Bobbé aims to empower the burlesque performer.  Modern, bold, colorful, provocative, risqué, sexy, sultry, sinful, seductive, in your face - this is not your mother's burlesque.

On the resurgence of the performance art form, New York Times writer Mark Caldwell notes, "21st-century burlesque is where Weimar meets Coney Island.  You can never be sure whether you're a cutting-edge cultural mandarin basking in the irony, or a classic pigeon, ogling the flesh and shedding your cash as if it were feathers in molting season."  In 2010, Bobbé will publish a compilation of the photographs accompanied by poignant quotations.  During one of the portfolio review sessions, he and his wife spoke with Maggie Blanchard from Twin Palms Press, who provided vital insight on pitching a book deal.  "FotoFest represents the debut of this exciting volume," boasts Robin.

"World's Largest Underpants," (detail), featuring performer Little Brooklyn

JinHee Kim, based in Seoul, is visiting FotoFest for the first time.  In her most recent series, "whisper(ing)", Kim offers glimpses of the modern female experience in Korea.  "whisper(ing), 1)" juxtaposes a refortified urban Seoul, unstoppable in its commercial might, yet still impacted by nature, as evidenced by the oppressive snow blanketing the skyline and lone human figure's gaze.

Kim's other work touches on the sexuality of single women in their twenties.  "The society I know feels uncomfortable about sex but desire(s) it at the same time . . . These stories are not openly exposed but they exist below the surface.  I became curious about these narratives and I wanted to express my peculiar sentiments about sex together with the stories of other women," she explains.

"Untitled," 2010

Susan Kae Grant also addresses the notion of the narrative in art, but draws inspiration from the surreal realm of dreams.  At the Meeting Place, Grant received feedback on her portfolio of current work, entitled "Night Journey".  The photographer served as a subject at a sleep laboratory, which led her to conduct her own inquiry into the subconscious dream-state: when awoken during REM sleep, she would record the images performing in her dreams, and later reconstruct them as shadows in her South Dallas studio.

"Divided Enchantment," 2008, courtesy Verve Gallery of Photography

Children and anthropomorphic figures are scattered across Grant's portfolio - motifs that communicate a range of emotional states, from the sublime to the macabre.

"Thorn Girl," 2009

Reflecting on the material excesses and natural devastation associated with the construction projects that fueled the real estate boom, photographer Beau Comeaux documents and distorts the scale of building sites.    Like Tummings, Comeaux manipulates his images digitally, but Comeaux imbues his large-scale post-apocalyptic landscapes with a painterly aesthetic.  After editing his images, a professional photography developer uses lasers to lend the pieces a palette of rich earth tones and toxic hues.

"I've only gotten escorted off the scene once," reports Comeaux.

"Cliff," Beau Comeaux

Born in Ufa, Russia, Nat Urazmetova had previously studied international law and written for the Russian edition of Rolling Stone before relocating to London to pursue a graduate degree in photography and digital media at Goldsmiths College.  Urazmetova recounts having attended a number of photography portfolio reviews across Europe, but notes, "None of them offer the expertise and quality organization of FotoFest."

Urazmetova's age (she is only 25-years-old) is belied by the startling quietude of her portfolio.  With such an uncanny eye and ambition to come to Houston, the photographer is positioning herself for international attention.  "I won't stop for the red lights," she promises.

an image from Nat Urazmetova's "doub(T)ling" series

On hand at the Meeting Place was renown portrait photographer, George Krause.  The photographer's accolades are manifold - a recipient of numerous Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts grants, his work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Paris' Bibliothèque Nationale.

Krause established the photography program at the University of Houston.

In his "Sfumato" series, Krause manipulates the light and shade surrounding his subject to reveal an unanticipated three-dimensionality.  Krause places the light source at the back of the head, producing the startling effect in which the principal features are in shadow and the secondary features highlighted.  To a certain extent, the periphery of the head vanishes, leaving the viewer with an unsettling reinterpretation of the canonical portraiture practice.

portrait of Steven Thomson, CultureMap Assistant Editor