New York Photo Festival 2009 lands in DUMBO

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The New York Photo Festival hit the DUMBO section of Brooklyn this week, with a wide variety of exhibits and offerings on view through Sunday. This year's main exhibition curators include New York magazine photography director Jody Quon, Director of the Lausanne, Switzerland's Musée de l'Elysée William A. Ewing, London-based editor and book publisher Chris Boot and Foto8 founder and director Jon Levy.

Levy's exhibit, "Home For Good" is a collaborative effort between the curator and his Foto8 team that's described as a celebration of photography's ability to communicate, describe, and explain, while also remaining open to interpretation. The show features the work of Lorraine Grupe, Tim Hetherington, Simon Roberts, Chris Killip, Venetia Dearden, Seba Kurtis, Louie Palu, Bruno Stevens, Adam Nadel, and David Gray. We spoke to Levy about the goals behind the exhibit and more.

Jon Levy
Jon Levy
What were your initial goals for the exhibit?
The first goal, in terms of how we produce it, was to draw on the little we know and are comfortable with, so there's quite a big element of organizing it like we edit a magazine. We wanted to give it a loose theme to put it all under one roof as an exhibition. One of the things we were quite conscious of from the beginning was not so much being judged by what we have in the show but rather what we didn't include. So the theme isn't made to be a Best Of but really just 10 pieces of work that tell a story. We're trying to not necessarily be equal across the ages but we are trying to span different ways of doing things and how the common denominator of photography brings it all back together. The point really is to just show something to an audience, regardless of when it was made or what kind of technology is behind it.

The title of the exhibit is "Home for Good," and you've said you're not aiming to reinvent the wheel because when it comes to photojournalism and documentary photography, there's no need to because it's ever-changing. Is there a certain level of home-like comfort in that idea?
Yes, exactly and in some ways that was kind of our comfort zone. If we thought we were getting too clever or conceptual we could always ask, Is this something we're comfortable looking at? Does it talk to us about home? And on the reverse, is it something that has its roots in the home? The photos by 82-year-old Lorraine Grupe are 1940s photo album pictures that she sent to troops in the South Pacific, so it's about how photography is used to send out a message from home. Then on the reverse, with a more media connotation of newspaper pictures or things delivered from your home. So, with all that in mind, it was about making sure we weren't straying too far away from home, in that sense.

Photographs by Lorraine Grupe
Photographs by Lorraine Grupe
There are eight different approaches used, how did you decide on these particular styles?
The eight obviously crops up and where it does it's convenient and we quite like it. But by the time we've actually stuck everything up on the wall it's up to 10, so we're not wedded to it. But in terms of the styles, again, we did it in a kind of magazine editorial way. One might like the look of something and it's just a matter of figuring out if it fits in this issue. Can we tie it in as though you're turning the page from one story to another? Is the message of our show about showing how many different styles and media there are or is that just the delivery and there's a consistent story or message throughout them all? We've tried to opt for the latter. We didn't feel we had to pay tribute to every modern media delivery system available today but just kind of do what we felt was right for the story.

Boy and Box by David Gray
Boy and Box by David Gray
This is only the festival's second year. How important is it to have an event like this here?
For me, it's two things. First, New York is such an important place, photographically speaking, for everyone around the world. It just has that vibe of can-do attitude, especially in photography. There's so much energy and styles here. For me personally, I was a press photographer for the French wire service, and lived here for 10 years as a press photographer, so it's a bit of a homecoming. There are so many complete communities of photography in New York, whether the fashion, commercial advertising, the press, and they're so large and independent in their own way that it's easy to see how it was taken for granted that they don't often come together. So it was an ambitious task for the organizers. The way they've done it is really in the spirit of just engaging with the photography and saying, Let's see what we can do, and building it from the ground up. In that way, it's a very genuine photography-led thing and it's great to be given the opportunity to be a curator and given a voice.
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