LookBetween Festival Highlights Emerging Photographers’ Multimedia
The Look3 Festival of the Photograph took this year off, but once again photographers descended on the town of Charlottesville, VA, for three days of meetings, networking, and discussions dubbed LookBetween. Andrew Owen and other staffers at Look3 invited 81 emerging photographers plus some photo editors and veteran photojournalists to Deep Rock farm to participate in discussions about the photo business and new modes of storytelling. But most of the inspiration came from the evening presentations, when multimedia projects created by each of the emerging photographers in attendance were projected onto an outdoor screen on a hill overlooking the farm’s duck pond. Their very different essays showed how many different ways audio recordings and video can be used to engage viewers.
Most of the photographers incorporated some video into their presentations; a few showed only video. Through clever editing, Erika Larsen was able to show in a few minutes how deeply she had immersed herself in the life of a reindeer farmer and his neighbors living in the tundra. From footage shot on a snowmobile used to herd reindeer, Larsen cut quickly to a kitchen where a housewife prepared seal meat, then cut to two teenage girls goofing around in the snow. Working in a very different mood, Simon Biswas presented video portraits of elderly people who, in voiceover, talked about the bittersweet emotions of reaching their eighties and beyond. His images were as contemplative as still images, but were all shot on video, capturing the gestures and gazes of his subjects.
Many photographers used video sparingly to add context to their still slide shows. Chris Burkhard, for example, who embarked on a road trip to capture southern California surf culture, interspersed the video he shot from a VW bus with heart-stopping surf photos. The video provided a sense of place, while his stills delivered the drama. Maisie Crow’s poignant “A Life Alone,”
combined video from her interview with a man trying to cope with the death of his wife of 63 years with black-and-white images of the farmhouse where he lives with her memory.
Audio was also an essential component of nearly all the presentations. It’s doubtful that Brian Lesteberg’s images of hunting with his father would have been quite as personal without his own narration describing his feelings and sensations on those cold early mornings. Ian Nichols’ presentation on how chimpanzees use tools inspired the most audience participation, thanks to his live recordings of the chimps’ shrieks. When the show ended, viewers not only applauded, they also whooped and screamed in imitation of Nichols’ vocal subjects.
The quality and polish of these presentations varied. During the group discussions on Saturday, attendees debated whether it was better for photographers to do their own time consuming post-production work to maintain control of their authorship, or to partner with experienced editors who can do the job faster and often better. “There’s something to be said for expertise,” Danielle Jackson of Magnum said. Members of the Luceo Images cooperative regularly team with outside producers and After Effects technicians on projects. Luceo member Matt Eich said that he prefers to focus on shooting, and not distract himself with trying to juggle too many tasks.
Eich noted that for now, multimedia and video remain “kind of a novelty" with few paying venues. A newspaper photographer noted that a few years ago, his paper devoted a lot of time to producing video, a task he wasn’t interested in. With layoffs, he said, the paper has eliminated video from its web site, but he said, “There’s been no reader backlash saying, ‘What happened to all those videos?’” Biswas, however, said many of his editorial clients like People and others have frequently asked him “Where’s your reel?” because they need content to show on their Web sites. He advised photographers to focus on their still photography if they prefer, “But know how to say yes” if clients ask for video.