Fotograf Magazine

Forever and Now – the Format Festival in Derby

This morning, I watched the destruction of the world as an attentive spectator, then I got back to work. Using this quote from Franz Kafka’s diary in her introductory text to the Format Festival catalogue, Louise Fedotov- Clements, the founder and director of the festival, illustrates how we can understand the theme of this year’s edition entitled Forever // now: as an unending growth policy presented by the system that we cannot possibly understand as a whole, much less in a glimpse of the moment, since we are not in the position of active politicians. In this respect, the analysis of the medium of photography, characteristic of a kind of conflict between continuous persistence and a fleeting moment, should be helpful since this year’s festival edition has several sub-themes: politics, fiction, vernacular photography, performance, or archives. Its concept is very broad and offers a wide range of approaches with slightly less emphasis on the main chosen theme. However, the diversity makes the Format Festival, which has been organized as a biennial since 2004, combined with the particularity of Derby, close cooperation with the University of Derby, guests and visitors from all over the world – has quite an extraordinary impact.

The main exhibition takes place in the organizing institution, the cultural hub QUAD, Mutable, Multible, and deals with the reassessment of documentary storytelling. An example of such thinking is the work by Edgar Martins, who deals with the absence of a loved one in his project What Photography Has in Common with an Empty Vase, created in co-operation with prisoners from West Midlands and their families and touching on the issues of representation of absence, ethics, and documentation as such.

The festival is held in about 20 exhibition sites, the most interesting being the Market Hall, a still functional local market where students participating in the educational and participatory innovative project Sixteen exhibited their works in chosen empty stalls. Based on the survey of opinions and stories of sixteen-year-olds from a number of UK cities taken at the time of the Scottish referendum, the project author, Craig Easton, co-operated with more than a dozen internationally recognized photographers who contributed with different attitudes. Other festival exhibitions include the intimate installation The Brexit Lexicon by Simon Roberts, presenting a two- part video that succinctly presents a sum of key phrases related to Brexit, based on the classic studio broadcast. Finally, the project curated by Martin Barnes of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London presents a selection of original vintage prints, including copyright indices, of fascinating photographs by Maurice Broomfield, a local native and photographer of the thriving manufacturing industry and lives of workers.

The theme of Forever // now has been successfully articulated by the contemporary language and with committed urgency in the accompanying programme. Thierry Geoffroy created an original project entitled Critical Run. The publicly advertised event was attended by several convinced and curious viewers who received the following instructions from the author – during the run, they should not only discuss, but also confront their ideas; if they could not run anymore, they should at least walk quickly, trying to keep moving forward; they should record their video selfies for the final film; and laughter was acceptable, but not as a symptom of fun. The concise rules brought movement to otherwise static debates to challenge the cumbersomeness of the academic environment that seems to stagnate due to its own inertia. A discussion during a run is not a relaxed and funny kind of utopia, but rather a more engaging and more urgent example of faster and more direct responses. In the outcome, not having enough time to think things over can be liberating and radical. I believe that this was the most symptomatic thing we, as the participants of both the non-competitive critical and the cycle of competitive daily worries of the global and local village, could experience at the festival.


Markéta Kinterová