Preview: Peace, love, and incredible photography at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph

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Expert color photographer Alex Webb is one of three INsight photographers headlining the Festival of the Photograph. (Photo by Alex Webb)

It’s June again and Charlottesville’s celebrated photography festival, now in its fifth year, is back, kicking off with a talk by David Doubilet on Wednesday. If you’ve been on the Downtown Mall in recent weeks, you’ve no doubt seen pioneering underwater photographer Doubilet’s stunning photographs hanging from the trees. Perhaps the most visible aspect of LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, the “Trees” exhibit is also the most popular. Printed (at a cost of about $500 by a specialty printer in Arizona) onto double-sided vinyl, the 18 images each measure 7’x10′ (two are vertical).

LOOK3 traces its genesis back to “National Geographic” Editor-at-Large Michael “Nick” Nichols’ “Hot Shots.” The annual one-night extravaganza of projected images began at his Berkeley, California loft in 1982, eventually coming east after Nichols’ move to the Charlottesville area. When in 2005, 400-500 people attended an al fresco marathon night of slides at his place in Sugar Hollow, the time seemed right to launch a full-fledged festival devoted to photography, which founders Nichols, Jessica Nagle, Will Kerner, and Jon Golden did to immediate acclaim.

Billed as “3 days of peace, love, and photography,” LOOK3 brings together members of the international photography community, in a kind of giant networking confab where images and ideas are freely exchanged. As LOOK3 Director Andrew Owen points out, for many of these far-flung folks, a centralized location of interaction no longer exists. “Connections that happen are rare [among photographers]. The newsroom is gone and photography has really changed in the digital era, becoming much more isolated.”

This year’s INsight photographers (the triumvirate that headlines each festival) are Alex Webb, one of the most influential color photographers of our time, Donna Ferrato, the internationally-known documentary photographer and Stanley Greene, an impassioned conflict photographer. Their work will be on view at Second Street Gallery, the McGuffey Art Center and 306 E. Main St., respectively. In addition, each INsight artist will take part in a one-on-one conversation at the Paramount with a specially selected interviewer (Webb: acclaimed author, Geoff Dyer; Greene: distinguished photo curator and editor, Jean-François Leroy; Ferrato: NPR’s Alex Chadwick).

LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph
Downtown Mall
June 7, 8 & 9

The 2012 LOOK3 Master Talks artists are Ernesto Bazan, Lynsey Addario, Hank Willis Thomas, Bruce Gilden, Camille Seaman and Robin Schwartz (Master Talks: Friday, June 8, 11am-1pm: and Saturday, June 9, 11am-1pm). Accompanying exhibitions will feature Addario at McGuffey, Seaman at Chroma Projects, Schwartz at Warm Springs Gallery, Thomas at the First Amendment Monument and Gilden at the Regal Wall).

Continuing in the tradition of Nichols’ “Hot Shots,” “Shots and Works” (Friday and Saturday nights at the Pavilion) presents photos from both emerging and well-known photographers projected onto a giant screen. Festival sponsor BD’s juried exhibition, “Hope for a Healthy World,” will be at 105 S. First St.; National Geographic: “Profoundly Human, the Photographs of Lynn Johnson” and “Aperture at Sixty,” an exhibit of the renowned magazine and book publisher’s output, both at 200 Water St. and POYI (Pictures of the Year International) presents the winners of its 69th annual photography competition at McGuffey. YourSpace, an interactive space, allows festival participants to print and display their work and “The Truth Booth,” a touring installation, is comprised of an inflatable booth, inside which anyone can compile two-minute videos on the subject of truth.

LOOK3’s subtitle suggests a laid-back spirit of cooperation and support—successful artists paying it forward to the next generation—and I get the sense from Owen that this is central to the ethos of the Festival. “What’s cool about LOOK3 is that because we’re reaching out to photographers and we’re not a big institution, it’s about honoring them. They love coming here—it’s very personal. We give them the freedom to show what they want to show.” This kind of approach effectively guarantees the participation of major figures in the field, ensuring an enlightening and inspiring weekend for all those captivated by the still image.

LOOK3 fever has swept the town, with photography shows at the UVA Art Museum, Mudhouse, Java-Java and Café Cubano, to name just a few. If you haven’t got your tickets and passes by now, it may be too late—the festival has been a sell-out every year since its inception. $450 (Big Love Pass); $145 (Festival Pass); $75 (Students), “Trees Talk,” David Doubilet: $15 adult; $10 youth. A limited number of tickets may be available immediately prior to the event.

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