Exposing the art of photography

Annual festival marks a decade of photographic innovations expansions and exhibitions

It’s February and for 10 years now this has meant one thing in the Calgary art community: Photography.

Since 2005 the Exposure: Calgary Banff Canmore Photography Festival ( exposurephotofestival.com ) has been championing the art form throughout the region and in that time it has grown from a handful of exhibitions and artists into a major cultural event dominating the Bow Valley corridor.

This year with over 50 venues ranging from major institutions such as Glenbow and the Whyte museums to private homes pastry shops and pop-up galleries Exposure is putting together its largest festival yet.

This year with a number of special anniversary events those numbers are expected to rise exponentially.

While working to co-ordinate the largest incarnation of Exposure yet the organizing committee has put together its own exhibition for the first time. Curated by Vincent Varga the former CEO of the Mendel Art Gallery and current director of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff Decade kicks off the official opening of the festival on Thursday February 6 at Christine Klassen Gallery’s new 4600-square-foot warehouse space in southeast Calgary.

Decade is the jewel the showcase of this year’s Exposure” says festival manager Wes Lafortune.

Celebrating the history of the festival Decade brings together new works by 25 of the festival’s premier contributing artists from the past nine years. Hanging alongside the likes of Edward Burtynsky and Lynne Cohen will be the works of Dianne Bos and Craig Richards the co-founders of the festival who built the foundation for what we see today.

Along with Decade this year also features the second annual Exposure Film Series: three features that aim to inspire audiences by exploring the power of individual photographers and the medium itself.

As in the past Exposure is intended to be about more than passively viewing artwork. Audience members are encouraged to get engaged and workshops have been set up in each of the participating cities and towns to help facilitate this participation. Two keynote speakers will also be delivering lectures on February 15: Wade Davis described by the National Geographic Society as one of the “explorers of the millennium” will be sharing his vast collection of photography at the Canmore Collegiate High School and David Griffin current visuals editor at the Washington Post will be speaking on the value of photography at Glenbow Museum.

Other events take a more informal approach with artists milling with the audience. At Canmore Projections on February 21 for example residents and visitors alike will battle the cold with a bonfire and hot chocolate as they view their own work blown up on a massive scale. On February 13 fuelled by a few pints at Village Brewery a selection of artists will sit down and chat about their process and inspiration.

“It’s an atmosphere that’s relaxed and informal” says Lafortune. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

Although Exposure is celebrating its 10th anniversary the seeds of the festival were planted much earlier. In 1998 with the support of the Whyte museum Richards began his Through the Lens mentorship program introducing photography to students from Banff Canmore and Morley and capping each year with a public exhibition. When Bos got involved in 2004 Calgary was added and Exposure was born. Although Richardson and Bos have since passed the torch to current chair Peter Duthie Through the Lens has remained an integral part of each year’s festivities.

Since Duthie took over in 2012 Exposure has grown in both scale and reputation. “It’s always been a strong festival right from the beginning and we have built on that” says Lafortune.

An annual increase in public interest and awareness has led to more venues and more varied and inventive exhibitions and this combined with continued support from sponsors and local partners has seen Exposure thrive.

Under Duthie’s leadership the board has begun to meet monthly and start planning events up to 10 months ahead of time. By instituting a highly successful annual fundraiser too Exposure has been able to expand from an umbrella organization with a single part-time employee to being able to fund and develop a word-class exhibition of its own.

And with the growth of the festival has come a growth in appreciation for photography as an art form.

“We’re bringing a cultural element to Calgary that before we started doing this didn’t exist” says Lafortune. “Over the past decade it has been a process of educating the public as to what the art of photography means and exposing people to high levels of great imagery and terrific work. It’s an important part of our mandate.”

That increase in public attention makes Exposure a perfect platform from which new photographers can launch their careers. The annual Emerging Photographer Showcase provides an opportunity for many previously undiscovered artists to display their work in a professional setting.

This increased appreciation for photographic art is a trend not lost on local gallery owners either.

“Collectors and the general public look forward to February” says Tamar Zenith director of Newzones who since the advent of the festival has tripled the number of photographic artists her gallery represents.

“They can see emerging Canadian and international photographers and participate as all the facets of our local art world collaborate together.”

In a world where photographic images are produced instantaneously millions of times every day Duthie says Exposure offers something different. “We are an image-based culture now but some images persist in our collective memory and change us in powerful ways for the better. That’s the kind of photography we are celebrating during Exposure the potential for great imagery that connects us and makes us more emphatic beings” he says.

“The mark of a great photographer is consistency: the ability to express oneself powerfully more than once and not merely repeat what has been expressed before.”

The same can be said about a great photographic festival and by expanding evolving and pushing the barriers Exposure has put itself in a league of its own.