When FotoFocus recently released information about its upcoming regional photography biennial in October — its third since 2012 — there was some head scratching from readers about the theme.
The press release announced the biennial’s unifying element to be “Photography, the Undocument.” The accompanying explanation of the phrase was that all FotoFocus’ exhibitions — more than 60 are planned at venues large and small — would “comment upon and question assumptions about the documentary character of photography and the boundaries between fact and fabrication.” Questions remained.
FotoFocus’ artistic director/curator Kevin Moore talks more about that theme:
“An assumption that you make about photography is that what you see is a document — or realism or reality — when in fact photographs do create fictions just as easily,” he says. “So this is about the idea of looking at photographs as being somewhere on a continuum between being a document and being some kind of fiction. I think just about any photograph you look at is some ratio of those two components.”
Moore explains that photographs can mislead through intentional misrepresentation — an increasingly easy thing to do in this era of Photoshop.
But photographs can also unintentionally include a fragment within an overall image that leads viewers to a wrong interpretation of the “larger picture.”
“More philosophically, how do we understand reality?” Moore asks. “Photographs are obviously a big tool for us to do that, but it’s important for people to try to understand you can’t take things for granted.”
This biennial will feature exhibitions Oct. 1-31. There will also be a symposium and related events, still unannounced, Oct. 6-9.
Moore — now serving his second stint as FotoFocus artistic director — will be curating several high-profile exhibitions, as he did in 2014. Only one has been announced to date: Roe Ethridge: Nearest Neighbor at the Contemporary Arts Center, a retrospective of the last 15 years of Ethridge’s work.
Other major exhibitions include:
Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954-1974 at the Cincinnati Art Museum:
In a way, a show at the last FotoFocus — Blue Roots and Uncommon Wealth: The Kentucky Photographs of Carey Gough and Guy Mendes at Iris BookCafé — served as a catalyst for this. Mendes presented a lecture on the rich Modernist heritage of photography that centered on the Lexington Camera Club in this era. Among those involved was the late Ralph Meatyard, whose mysterious and surreal-like photographs have drawn comparison with Diane Arbus. This exhibition, curated by the art museum’s Brian Sholis, takes a closer look at that legacy.
Evidence at the Art Academy of Cincinnati: This exhibit recreates an influential 1977 exhibition by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel that presented photos from institutional archives without captions or any other indication as to their origin or context.
Ravaged Sublime: Landscape Photography in the 21st Century at the Dayton Art Institute: The DAI presents contemporary photographs of degraded landscapes by Edward Burtynsky and Richard Mosse.
The Sun Placed in the Abyss at the Columbus Museum of Art: This show offers photographs by more than 50 artists, including Sarah Charlesworth, Lisa Oppenheim and James Welling. The title comes from French writer Francis Ponge’s poem.
Meanwhile, galleries ranging from the 1305 Gallery in Over-the-Rhine to Wright State University’s Gallery 207 are planning shows. Many receive financial support from FotoFocus, a nonprofit organization. To date, more than $1.1 million has been provided.
Mary Ellen Goeke, executive director of FotoFocus, says this year’s FotoFocus could be one of the first citywide cultural events of the new Cincinnati Streetcar era, projected to begin in early September.
“The downtown core will be at the heart of what we’re doing, so we’re hoping the streetcar will help get people to and from different spots,” she says. “We’re excited that’s coming just a month before our opening.”
For more information on FOTOFOCUS, visit fotofocuscincinnati.org.