Oceans on the Mall

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Andrew Owen, the co-founder and director of the festival that has made Charlottesville an important stop for serious photographers and photo lovers each June, has fond memories of the slide show parties wildlife photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols used to hold in his Albemarle County backyard. A 25-year tradition, these annual one night affairs, last held in 2005, drew as many as 500 people from as far away as Washington D.C. and New York City.

“The idea was that anybody who showed up could show work,” Owen says. “So you might have a National Geographic photographer showing his newest project and that would be followed up by the neighbor who just got back from a family vacation. It was that campfire spirit that got us started.”
 
Now in its sixth year, LOOK3 has grown out of beloved informal get-togethers to a month-long community happening highlighted by “three days of peace love and photography” on and around Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. David Doubilet’s stunning underwater images of the world’s oceans grace the Mall. Exhibitions by nine other artists are on display all June. Open air slide shows plus artist interviews, book signings and master classes all designed to showcase a vibrant, evolving art form take place June 7-9.
 
“I call it an immersive public arts experience,” Owen says. “Photographs are hanging in the trees; they’re on the sides of buildings; they’re in the galleries. We have shows in the Paramount and the Pavilion, and they’re in all the coffee shops. Any business with wall space that puts up art is showing photography in June.”
 
Since it was first held in 2007, LOOK3 has drawn photo fans from 46 U.S. states and 26 other countries. Eighty-five percent of attendees who buy three-day festival passes come from out of town. Besides pumping tourist dollars into the area economy, the festival organization itself spends liberally in the local business community as it produces exhibits and events that are free and open to all.
 
Each year the festival celebrates “three legends of photography who have made an indelible mark on the medium.” This year’s three Insight Artists—Stanley Greene, Donna Ferrato, and Alex Webb—who largely work as photojournalists, will be interviewed at the Paramount Theater in separate evenings devoted to their work.
 
Stanley Greene’s work is showing in a specially constructed gallery at 306 Main Street adjacent to Bank of America. Although Greene has produced iconic images in such news hot spots as Croatia, Rwanda, the Berlin Wall and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, he rejects both the photojournalist and the artist labels, claiming the former has been “bastardized” and preferring the idea of being “a photographer, just being photographer.” A photographer “is someone who looks at the world and tries to make some sense of it for themselves, and for everyone else,” Greene says. “And that’s what I want to do.”
 
A man who believes in believes working deep and thorough, Greene spent more than a decade in Chechnya as Chechnyans fought Russia for independence. “He stands his ground,” says fellow photographer David Griffin, curator of Greene’s exhibition. “He’s very impassioned and refuses to compromise his values.”
 
Owen is “particularly excited about Stanley because he’s so analog. He’s a strong critic of what digital has done to photography, and for a lot of the young photographers in the audience it will be a perspective they don’t know anything about.” Greene will be interviewed by photojournalist Jean-François Leroy at the Paramount on June 7 at 7:00 p.m.
 
Donna Ferrato’s unflinching documentary work is on display in the McGuffey Art Center’s Main Gallery. Ferrato determined to shine a light on the lot of battered women early in her career, after seeing a man hit his wife. Her exposés of domestic violence add up to “powerful and important work,” Owen says. “Nobody has made a contribution to this field quite the way she has.”
 
Ferrato’s 1991 collection, Living with the Enemy, the first book-length photographic exploration of domestic abuse, has been reprinted four times and sold 40,000 copies worldwide. Since 9/11 she has focused on her Lower Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca, a now trendy area with elegant landmark buildings and a gritty commercial and industrial history. Ferrato will be interviewed at the Paramount on June 8 at 4 p.m. by Alex Chadwick, journalist and co-creator of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
 
A retrospective of the work of Alex Webb is on display at 2nd Street Gallery. “Alex is the photographer’s photographer,” Owen says. “He has been copied and emulated for 30 years. His use of color is singular.” Webb was first inspired to use color in the 1970s when forays to Haiti, the Caribbean and the U.S.-Mexico border, so different from the New York and New England environments he’d been documenting, led him to switch from black-and-white to capture the South’s particular heat and light.
 
Webb “is one of the most patient photographers still working today,” Owen says. “He will go and find a beautiful wall or a particular street intersection and just wait; he’ll go back to it every night when he thinks the light’s right and just wait for something to happen.” Webb will be interviewed by essayist and novelist Geoff Dyer at the Paramount on June 9 at 4:00 p.m.
 
LOOK 3’s most popular show each year is the one hanging in the trees—the trees along the Downtown Mall. Intended to promote environmental awareness and conservation, the exhibit features images from nature. This year’s photos from the 40-year career of National Geographic underwater photographer David Doubilet, including coral reefs, blue-ringed octopuses, leafy sea dragons, schools of giant bumphead parrotfish, and tiger sharks, make the Mall the setting for “a self-guided tour of the world’s most fascinating ocean environments.” Under Exposed, Doubilet’s interview with Alex Chadwick, takes place at the Paramount on June 6 at 7:30 pm.
 
Friday and Saturday evenings at 9:00, the festival will take over the nTelos Wireless Pavilion for Shots and Works, two hours a night of what Owen describes as “visual essays by photographers from all over the world,” culled by “advisory boards from New York who look at hundreds of potential projects.” These onscreen projections will feature new and innovative work from both professionals and emerging talents in photojournalism, fine art, and everything in between.
 
Rather than presenting a smorgasbord of individual photos, the 40 artists will show entire projects constructed free from commercial restraint, sometimes with musical accompaniment. Shots on Friday will be a sort of Fridays After Five continued in the dark, and still free. Tickets for Works on Saturday are $10. Each evening will follow the same format, but with different participants. 
 
Renowned photography teacher Ernesto Bazan, a native of Sicily, first saw Cuba in 1992. He went back for 14 years. “For many years I had strongly desired Cuba, as if longing for a woman that you meet only once and can’t get out of your mind,” Bazan says. “I’m almost certain I lived there in another life.” Bazan will show his work and present a Masters Talk at the Paramount June 8 at 11:00 a.m.
 
Five other artists will receive exhibitions this year. Lynsey Addario has documented wars and humanitarian crises from Darfur, the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya for The New York Times, National Geographic, Newsweek, and Time. In 2009, she was on a team that received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. Addario’s exhibit Veiled Rebellion is on display at McGuffey.
 
Bruce Gilden’s criterion for a good street photograph is that it makes you smell the street. “He’s proven that the street is an exotic destination,” says guest curator Vince Musi. “I’ve been known for taking pictures very close,” Gilden says, “and the older I get, the closer I get.” Gilden’s exhibition Street Smart, including images from Coney Island, Tokyo, and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, are on display on the wall outside the Regal Cinema.
 
Hank Willis Thomas is a rising art world star whose central subject is the black male figure as portrayed in the media. “Thomas appropriates images from popular culture—advertisements, magazines—and strips them of their branding,” Owen says, showing the image by itself “as a way to poke fun but also create a dialogue about race and identity and popular culture.”
 
Thomas’ Myth(ology) has been printed on vinyl banners and is displayed on the Freedom of Speech Wall on the Mall. “There has been a lot of talk about race relations in Charlottesville,” Owen says, referring to the City’s ongoing Dialogue on Race initiative, “and I think that this is going to be an important contribution to that conversation because it is about how black males are perceived in popular culture.”
 
When Camille Seaman was growing up as part of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, a self-governing tribe in a small village outside Long Island, New York, she was taught that the human race and the natural world are intimately connected. “This false idea that we as humans are separate from nature is what I seek to challenge with my images,” she says today. Seaman’s conviction is reflected in a body of work that guest curator David Griffin describes as dramatic and sometimes ominous. Seaman herself compares her photos of polar ice in the Arctic and Antarctica to portraits of ancestors, each revealing a unique personality. Her exhibit The Last Iceberg is at Chroma Arts Project.
 
Robin Schwartz has been taking pictures of her daughter Amelia with animals since Amelia was three. Gibbon apes, dogs, kangaroos, llamas, and a hairless cat have all appeared with 13-year old Amelia, who now collaborates with her mother, helping choose poses and clothes. “My daughter and I share an affinity with the animal kingdom and we play out our fantasies and explore our eccentricities by creating a cultural space where animals not only co-exist with humans, but also interact as full partners,” Robin says. Schwartz’s interspecies fantasia Amelia’s World is on display at Warm Springs Gallery. The photographer will be at the gallery on June 9 at 11:00 a.m. Pets are welcome.
 
LOOK3’s feast of images and stimulating discussion is bound to put some festivalgoers in a, shall we say, interactive mood. Let them head to the Truth Booth on the front lawn of the McGuffey Arts Center June 7-9. Truth Booth is a touring inflatable installation shaped like a cartoon speech bubble. Inside, the booth functions like an old-fashioned photo booth that takes multiple, rapid portrait shots, except that it takes two-minute videos instead. As the videos are taken, subjects are invited to complete sentence, “The truth is…” First installed at Ireland’s Galway Arts Festival in 2011, Truth Booth is traveling to festivals, fairs, and the like, compiling footage that will be edited into a single work of art.
 
“The stories behind the photographs, I think that’s where we’ve distinguished ourselves,” Owens says modestly, acknowledging only when asked that LOOK3 is the preeminent photo festival in the U.S. “When we bring people to the stage, it’s not a canned presentation. We sit them down with a professional interviewer and ask them questions that are sometimes tough to answer.” Look and listen—Central Virginia has the privilege every June. 
 
For tickets and information about classes and other events, go to www.look3.org. 
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