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Recap: Amlit Takes on Fotoweek DC

BY Carolyn Schneider

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Check out e-board member Carolyn Schneider's review of Fotoweek DC 2016

From November 11-20, Washington, D.C. welcomed its largest citywide celebration of photography, FotoWeekDC, for its ninth annual installment that brings amateurs, experts and art-lovers alike for an incredibly expansive range of collections and photo-centered events. FotoDC hosted more than 150 exhibitions across venues in all four quadrants (yes, you’re reading that right) and showcases local and international pieces, fine art and photojournalism.

Naturally, we here at AmLit could not pass up an opportunity to get in on such a unique and incredible experience--so the Saturday before it ended, a few of our staff members ventured out to the festival’s HQ, FotoWeekCentral, at the NatGeo Museum to check out what it had to offer. Below, I highlight some of my favorite collections from FotoWeek:

A stunning array of journalistic photography was chosen for a special tenth-anniversary collection by the Women Photojournalists of Washington (WPOW), boasting the best of their annual exhibit. The photos worked together like connecting dots on a map; while many of the works are situated in the D.C. Metropolitan area, some move out toward rural Virginia, other East coast cities, or even around the globe across continents. Peruvian-born, D.C.-based photographer Susana Raab’s “Girls” shows four young friends posing on a beach in Mancora, Peru in what seems to be a hazy cotton candy dream. The soft blues and pinks of a sunset sky reflect warmly on the girls’ skin and clothes, softly focused with waves blurry in motion, with the only land in sight fuzzy in the far distance. Lexey Swall’s untitled photo of the Casa Ruby house, located on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C., is brought to life by the many colorful and stylish people hanging around the front steps; their ease around one another makes it feel like a kind of family portrait, with mother Ruby Corado welcoming trans and other queer folk in need of support from her porch. 

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While there isn’t an explicit theme for WPOW’s chosen photos, I can’t help but point out the undeniable presence of strong female subjects in this exhibit. Almost without exception, each photo tells the story of a different woman, all from different walks of life, yet every single one dominates and is in control in the piece. There is no fetishizing gaze, and they are not valued based on their appearance nor for their tragedy. Zaniya, a young girl from Southeast D.C., stands proudly outside of the apartment complex she calls home; Lily Monir Matini gets ready to walk at a fashion show benefitting HIV+ Muslim Americans, donning a dress and hijab from Muslim women designers; two women are depicted getting married in their Bethesda church. WPOW’s exhibit speaks to the importance and empowering abilities of women photographers illuminating women subjects. 

One particularly striking piece was an untitled portrait by Ami Vitale of 16-year-old Umou, dressed up for a baby naming ceremony in her village in the Kalalé District of Benin. She is one of the only girls who attends school past a young age, as the most pressing concern of Umou’s village is securing food sources and fighting malnutrition, especially in the harsh dry season. All of the photos I described and more of WPOW’s exhibition can be seen on their website: http://www.womenphotojournalists.org/index

Some other highlights included the dual showing of Mark Peterson’s “Political Theater” series and “Politicking” by Ben Baker. There’s a good chance you’ve seen some of their work before. A bit too soon after the election to see Overlord Trump’s uncomfortably smiling children up close? Maybe. Did a picture of Obama in sunglasses pointing at the camera like the truly cool guy he is make me tear up a little bit? Definitely. More of their photography can be seen at: http://www.benbakerphoto.com/ and http://www.markpetersonpix.com/.

The aforementioned collections showcased some incredibly skilled and moving pieces, but I find it impossible to recap this exhibit without expressing the effect one particular exhibit had on this viewer. “Signs of Your Identity” by photojournalist and fine art photographer Daniella Zalcman was featured as a part of the Pulitzer’s Center for Crisis Reporting. Hung in the center chamber of the entire exhibition, the humbly-sized framed portraits of First Nations people offered a poignant counterbalance to the sardonic humor of overblown, unflattering portraits of American talking heads. The story told of these portraits was one of tragedy, the deep roots of colonial oppression and violence toward Canada’s native people, and pain-- pain that endures throughout historical and temporal boundaries. A written introduction from Zalcman begins the collection, relaying one facet of the Canadian government’s atrocities toward their First Nations people in which they forcibly took children and put them in “Indian Residential Schools,” which assimilated them to Canadian culture-- actively erasing their indigenous languages and traditions through a range of methods that included routine physical and sexual abuse. One paragraph harrowingly reads: “The last residential school closed in 1996. The Canadian government issued its first formal apology in 2008.” The portraits that follow are all double-exposure, meaning that one photograph has been physically laid overtop another. I have never before seen this method so appropriately used in conveying the traces of trauma that still exist after years of suffering. In some photographs, the images of First Nation communities and landscapes eclipse an individual’s face, serving as a commentary on the resilience of indigenous lands and peoples; in others, a western church or broken-down brick building that once housed these schools remain visible behind a silhouette to show that some scars will never fade. 

This was an undeniably moving exhibit forever about this exhibit, which I highly recommend seeking out. I can’t guarantee that it will evoke the same emotional response as I had seeing it in person, just a day after the election, but this is an incredibly powerful and important work of art that this viewer would like everyone to have the chance to be exposed to.

You can find it at Daniella’s website here: http://www.dan.iella.net/ and follow her on Instagram @dzalcman.

The official FotoWeek may be over, but its creative spirit lives on as several exhibits will stay up around the city well into 2017-- catch the amazing FotoWeekCentral collections I highlighted here at the NatGeo Museum until inauguration weekend (that’s January 22nd, in case you haven’t already marked the beginning of the end on your calendar). For a complete list of continuing exhibitions around the city, go to http://www.fotodc.org/events.

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