Zanele Muholi: Personae, Photo by Ryan Elliott

The largest photography and lens-based biennial in America, FotoFocus is in a category of its own. In 2018, more than 400 artists, curators, and educators are collaborating with FotoFocus on more than 90 projects of photography and lens-based art at museums, galleries, and universities across Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Dayton, and Columbus.

Each FotoFocus Biennial is structured around a unifying theme. For 2018, that theme is Open Archive—an exploration of how we organize and care for the unruly abundance inherent in lens-based art.

This question is considered in myriad ways. There’s Paris to New York, a query of the encounter between young American photographer Berenice Abbott and elderly French photographer Eugène Atget, and the transatlantic documentation their work provides. There’s contemporary artist Chris Engman’s utilization of the camera to build fake landscapes, presented in dialogue with 20 other artists manipulating the photographic medium including Jimmy Baker, John Houck, Robert Rauschenberg, Sheida Soleimani, and Sigrid Viir. Then there are works from Swedish painter Mamma Andersson, highlighting her photographic archive that’s referenced on canvas. Because for FotoFocus, photography and film are the essential mediums of our time—and they are, intrinsically, neither static nor sequestered from the more encompassing trajectory of art.

The 2018 FotoFocus Biennial Program Week, which runs October 4–7, constitutes the core of the Biennial, establishing the theme and dialogues which unite the broader programming. There will be talks, performances, screenings, and receptions with exceptional artists and curators.

FotoFocus Biennial projects at more than 80 Participating Venues span the entire month of October, with several opening earlier and many remaining on view into 2019. And for the first time, FotoFocus curated exhibitions will fill the entire Contemporary Arts Center.

The photographic archive is massive, and FotoFocus is not shying away from its scope—just take a look at the following exhibitions and events.

Read the complete Press Release here: FotoFocus Announces Fourth Edition of Largest Photography and Lens-Based Biennial in America

About the Theme

Given the proliferation of photographs, past and present, archives are an essential aspect of photography and lens-based works. Open Archive explores the unlimited ways in which photographs are organized and the great variety of stories and histories drawn from them. From historical archives—photographs in physical institutional archives—to contemporary archives—photographs in personal digital archives and available for open use on the web—Open Archive examines our fundamental need to preserve photographs and to construct narratives through their ongoing production, collection, and organization.

Open Archive also emphasizes photography’s centrality to modernism in various artistic mediums. While individual photographs and photographic series have achieved art status through incisive portrayal of subject matter or formal acuity, or some combination of both, archives of photographs offering vast amounts of visual data have provided artists and designers with imagery and also impacted artistic styles and the conception of modern art itself. The sheer abundance of photographs housed in archives, both physical and digital, as well as the easy ability to manipulate, transfer, and appropriate photographs, has offered ample inspiration for artists conceiving of new concepts and forms. From collage, montage, and mixed-media work, toward the rethinking of realism and representation in movements such as Dada and Surrealism, photographic archives have formed a basis for most of the largest innovations in visual modernism. Open Archive seeks to explore the significance of the photo-archive, past, present, and future.

Director’s Statement

FotoFocus warmly welcomes you to the fourth iteration of the FotoFocus Biennial—the largest of its kind in America. More than 80 Participating Venues worked together to bring this expansive event to life, beautifully fulfilling the FotoFocus mission to collaborate in presenting the best of photography and lens-based art. These coordinated programs fill the month of October, deemed the Month of Photography in Cincinnati, with exhibits suited to all tastes: historical and contemporary, abstract and representative, portraits and landscape, edgy and traditional, presenting work by both local and international artists. Yet, these exhibitions are all united by the FotoFocus Biennial theme, Open Archive, which examines our fundamental need to preserve photographs and to tell stories through their collection, organization, and interpretation. In presenting such a diverse range of exhibitions, the FotoFocus Biennial 2018 the abundant photo-archive we share, past, present, and future.

The marvel of the Biennial does not lie solely in the sheer number of venues, projects, and participants. Cincinnatians and out-of-town visitors alike will, we hope, be impressed by the diversity and plurality of arts organizations in and around the Greater Cincinnati region, many of which reside in neighborhoods teeming with historical significance and local attractions. New this year, FotoFocus will highlight these cultural gems with neighborhood weekends.

Local resources, both established and yet to be discovered, will remain an important focal point in the 2019 FotoFocus initiatives. Make sure to check in after the Biennial to see how FotoFocus plans to feature and promote artists with regional ties. Of course, FotoFocus will also present our Visiting Artist and Lecture Series in the spring and Symposium in the fall, as part of the regular 2019 off-year programming.

FotoFocus would not be able to fulfill its mission without the help of Participating Venues, Patrons, Sponsors, Partnering Institutions, our Board of Directors, and a small but dedicated team. Artistic Director and Curator Kevin Moore has once again guided FotoFocus through the selection of a theme and has rallied a host of innovative artists to present dynamic and compelling exhibitions. Carissa Barnard, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs, worked tirelessly with the support of Kristin Riepenhoff, Participating Venue and Project Coordinator, though many stages of planning and frequent troubleshooting to ensure that all FotoFocus projects were accorded logistical support. Sarah Klayer organized and hosted the many tasteful and lively events occurring as an integral part of the Biennial. Nancy Glier, FotoFocus CFO, ceaselessly supported each endeavor, making sure the FotoFocus budget and administrative goals met exacting requirements. Jacob Drabik developed a number of designs, including the memorable Biennial logo. New team members Alyssa Konermann, Anastasia Nurre, and Hunter Clem contributed hundreds of hours of their time, writing, presenting, and working at public events to spread awareness of FotoFocus through our outreach initiatives.

Enjoy FotoFocus in October, the Month of Photography in Cincinnati!

Curator’s Statement

“The archive” is a longstanding subject in photography, referring to the accumulation and storage of papers most commonly, including photographs, as historic documents, housed as repositories representing all conceivable areas of knowledge: not only historical but geographic, anthropologic, scientific, even astronomical. Archives can be personal, too, and become important in direct relation to the importance of the person whose life they represent. Actresses, writers, politicians, even photographers, thinking ahead, will deposit their personal effects somewhere so that people may study their lives, or the impact of their lives, when they are gone, and—to be honest—so that people will understand it all a certain way. It should be noted that archives are generally edits of history, public or personal. Someone decided what went in and what stayed out, and they arranged the archive for certain emphases. An archive is like a great leading question: it invites you to discover the story that it was carefully arranged to tell. But a lot of other stories get housed there as well, often unintentionally, and just as interesting.

“Open archive” brings the archive into the present day, referring specifically to free-use images available on the web. Indeed, the world’s original archivists could never have foreseen the sheer volume of documentation that would be produced and need to be arranged and stored, as in today’s gargantuan and ever-expanding digital archives, so unwieldy and increasingly untrustworthy that by the time new laws are drafted to protect the integrity and fair use of information they are immediately woefully outdated.

This year’s FotoFocus biennial, in keeping with past biennials, attempts a sweeping if unsystematic assessment of (in this case) archives, running the gamut from traditional to contemporary, and in some instances questioning what qualifies as an archive to begin with. Two historical shows involving four historical figures (and one inspired contemporary) form the foundation of our exploration: Paris to New York: Photographs by Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott and No Two Alike: Karl Blossfeldt, Francis Bruguière, Thomas Ruff consider photographers working with the archive as an end in itself—as a total organism made up of thousands of individual photographs. Other artists, such as Mamma Andersson (a painter) and Akram Zaatari (an “anti-archivist”) make use of personal and public photo archives, respectively, in the realization of their own artistic work. While still others, such as Chris Engman, Sheida Soleimani, and Gillian Wearing, fabricate memories and experiences, effectively creating “false” archives to approximate their own inner imaginings. All of the FotoFocus Biennial projects—more than 90, at last count—tackle the open archive question in more ways than can be counted, elaborating a basic human impulse: to preserve history through archived ephemera. And a twin impulse, equally strong: to invent new histories through an open process of building new archives.

FotoFocus Biennial History

Launched in October 2012, the FotoFocus Biennial is a regional, month-long celebration of photography and lens-based art held throughout the greater Cincinnati region. FotoFocus was built around the idea of collaboration. The collective experience is developed through a unique cooperation between art museums, artists, curators, and educators in the exploration of the photographic art form. The Biennial brings together the community to celebrate October as the Month of Photography.

FotoFocus Biennial 2016: Photography, the Undocument

Featuring over 60 exhibitions and over 100 FotoFocus events at Participating Venues, the 2016 Biennial included eight major exhibitions curated by FotoFocus Artistic Director and Curator Kevin Moore exploring the documentary nature of photography, including solo exhibitions of Roe Ethridge, Zanele Muholi, and Jackie Nickerson. The Biennial Program included four days of events, lectures, and screenings.

The Participating Venues took diverse approaches to the theme: Photography, the Undocument, which seeks to break apart assumptions about photography’s documentary character by emphasizing the medium’s natural tendency to distort and reshape the visible world.

FotoFocus Biennial 2014: Photography in Dialogue

The second edition of the Biennial, hosted in October of 2014 and centered around Washington Park, included six original exhibitions curated by FotoFocus, the premiere of the FotoFocus ArtHub, as well as exhibitions by over 60 Participating Venues throughout the region. The FotoFocus featured programming included five days of lectures, panel discussions, screenings, and performances with curators, critics, and art world professionals, all focused on one common theme: Photography in Dialogue. FotoFocus welcomed over 115,000 visitors to the Biennial. #FotoFocus2014

Biennial 2012: People. Places. Photography.

In October of 2012 the FotoFocus Biennial became the region’s first event to bring together over 60 venues to simultaneously present contemporary and historical photography, as well as artistic and educational programing. The inaugural event welcomed 63,000 visitors to the FotoFocus Biennial 2012.

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