“I began asking local residents if they’d heard of LOOK3. The vast majority said, ‘Oh, you mean the pictures in the trees!,’” says Mary Virginia Swanson, LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph executive director. “I knew then that we needed to reach out with community-based programs that would be free and open to all.” Indeed, as a festival focused on presenting the work of nationally renowned photographers, outreach programs have played second fiddle in the past while names from the pages of National Geographic and the walls of prestigious galleries or museums received the most attention. This year, that’s going to change, as Swanson presents the first festival under her leadership.
“It is crucial to me that our events include the community,” she says. “I set out to learn what types of photography programs community residents were most interested in.” Over the past few months, she and other LOOK3 staffers experimented with free lectures and a print-sharing event to see what excited locals.
“The roots of LOOK3 reach back to this community and we are committed to expanding the rich history of photography that enriches this area,” Swanson says. Influenced by this desire and research, she is ready to launch her new approach.
In addition to the exhibitions and outdoor projections, artist talks by professional photographers and educational offerings for aspiring photographers that LOOK3 consistently hosts, this year’s festival will offer an impressive breadth of free programs. A community print share kicks off the festival on June 13, featuring the work of local photographers who submitted art in advance. Free to participate in or attend, the event sets the tone for the week-long festival by welcoming all.
“We already see how our high school mentoring programs have made an impact on youth,” Swanson says. “Just imagine if even more people were engaging in the power of photography to tell their stories.”
On June 14, LOOK3 presents a panel discussion titled “PDN’s 30 2016: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch,” a program that seeks to invite community members into this very type of engagement. Professional photographers will discuss their work while also exploring the broader topics of creative careers and the business side of art, offering advice for aspiring artists in all categories. It’s a chance to learn from the experts on topics ranging from getting work noticed to building support networks and finding your artistic voice.
The Pop-Up Book Fair is another addition to the festival, providing an outlet for local artists who have reserved a free space to display and sell their books and zines. “There are so many opportunities to self-publish photography books today, but one of the challenges is distribution,” says Swanson. “We wanted to give authors a chance to sell their zines and photobooks and share their work with a broader audience.” It’s free to attend and includes a book signing with participants.
During Family Photo Day on Sunday (which also happens to be Father’s Day, hint hint), LOOK3 offers free family portraits along with a book signing by young artists Abbey Ellerglick and Harper Tidwell, who are featured in the Aperture Foundation book, Go Photo! An Activity Book for Kids by Alice Proujansky. As a teaching artist, Proujansky will also be present to lead a hands-on, kid-friendly photography activity with Ellerglick and Tidwell. “We hope families from all parts of our community will turn out—especially those who are new to Charlottesville or new to this country who may not have had a portrait made in this new phase of their lives,” says Swanson.
Concluding the 2016 festival, LOOK3 hosts a free screening of Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur’s short documentary film, Syria’s Lost Generation. This event will also feature a presentation of photographs and text by Kashi and writer Don Belt, showcasing the pair’s work in Syria during the past two decades while on assignment with National Geographic. With insiders’ perspectives and tales from the ground, the discussion between the three artists will provide a free taste of the high caliber artist talks that populate the festival’s ticketed events.
In addition, exhibitions at more than 10 downtown gallery spaces and the official LOOK3 bookstore will all be free to visit and accessible throughout the week. And, of course, all it takes is a glance upward while walking along the Downtown Mall to take in the best-known free LOOK3 program, the popular TREES exhibition of nature photographs.
June 6, 2014: Photography in Charlottesville