Louise Clements outlines the impact the Format photography festival has had on Derby and the East Midlands.
For the past two years, the Format photography festival has presented a wide range of photographic activity to audiences across the East Midlands and beyond. The festival aims to bring photography to life and is firm in the belief that photography is an enjoyable, intelligent and accessible visual language through which to communicate an understanding of the world.
In a programme that combines exhibitions of historical and contemporary work, commissions, workshops, professional practice, innovative community projects and opportunities for debate on current issues, the festival profiles photography that questions and comments on social and cultural issues.
Derby has a rich heritage in photography, from pioneering Victorian photographers Richard Keane and Fox Talbot to having the first college to run a Diploma in 1971 and the first MA in Creative Photography. Between 1991 and 1997, the city hosted an International Photography Festival. Derby retains a reputation as a centre for photographic excellence, and the development of the Format photography festival responds to and reinforces this historical strength giving it a new platform for promotion and development.
The initiation of Format ties in with current arts development in Derby, in particular QUAD, Derbys new visual arts and media centre formed through a merger of Q Arts and Metro Cinema. Other new initiatives include Friar Gate Studios (a creative industries complex) and a new purpose-built campus for the School of Art, Design and Technology at the University of Derby. Within this group of projects Format has carved a niche to support and celebrate emerging talent and the best of international practice. Together these new developments will transform the arts and media landscape of the city.
At present, the UK has a relatively small photographic infrastructure compared with other European countries, with only a handful of established festivals, publications, galleries and networks dedicated to photography. In many cases, sustainability is the main challenge and in order to develop Format06 the festival team undertook a programme of research and development funded by Arts Council England. This consisted of comparator visits to photography festivals in the UK and Europe. The research was invaluable in informing this years festival, which aimed to build the case for future investment, growth and to encourage cultural tourism.
To realise educational and audience development opportunities, Format works closely with partners and Creative Partnerships, local communities and organisations. This enables people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds to experience photography both as a powerful form of communication and as a means of highlighting relevant issues. It also supports the development of regionally and locally produced work, alongside that of the worlds most acclaimed photographers. One of the key aims is for the festival to take activity into the public realm through exhibitions, live photo and participatory events and activity that tests the understanding of the term photography.
The festival offers a snapshot of our time and an opportunity for visitors and artists at all stages of experience to engage in a wealth of practice, from dark room to digital, printed to projected. By no means lacking in ambition or serious intent, its mission is to promote photography as a vital practice within visual culture through a bi-annual festival, supported by a developing year-round programme that engages broad audiences. Format is embedded in the practice of the present but rooted in the past and aims to enrich photographic heritage with fresh ideas, participation, opportunity, debate and imagination.