Rhubarb Rhubarb Photo Festival 2009: Magenta Founder MaryAnn Camilleri’s Report from Birmingham, UK

Ferit Kuyas — City of AmbitionFerit Kuyas — City of Ambition

By MaryAnn Camilleri
Founder and Executive Director, The Magenta Foundation

It’s been a while since my last circuit of portfolio reviews at Rhubarb Rhubarb, the international photography festival held annually in Birmingham, UK. I hadn’t attended the festival in recent years and felt a bit apprehensive heading into it, fearing that I might be a bit out of practice conducting reviews at this level. However, it did not take long to get back into the swing of things thanks to the warm welcome I received from Rhonda Wilson, Director of Rhubarb Rhubarb, and from my international peers. I had my confidence back in no time.

One never knows what to expect when reviewing portfolios. It’s a mixed bag of goodies. Not everything connects with a reviewer, but seeing the work being produced, and participating in the larger discussions, is essential to keeping aware of the state of international photography. I quickly learned how the world of photography can change in just a short amount of time. In the two years I was away from Rhubarb Rhubarb I missed many good bodies of work and likely some amazing opportunities for collaboration.

One positive thing about not attending Rhubarb Rhubarb for a couple of years was that I had an opportunity to gauge whether professional photographers have taken to heart the advice of reviewers they’d spoken to in the past. The photographers I spoke to this year surprised me with their professionalism and the quality of their presentations. These artists now talk about their work and projects in accessible ways that, from a publisher’s point of view, is helpful when considering collaborative possibilities. This was an astonishing and exciting revelation! I am well aware how hard it is for many artists to talk about their own work and I let the photographers I spoke to know how much I appreciated the organization, thoughtfulness and effort put into their presentations.

In the past 10 years of watching Rhubarb Rhubarb grow and continue to inspire industry professionals and photographers, I’d like to remind everyone how important it is to attend these festivals and reinforce how much the international photography community needs these events to remain relevant. Especially in these discouraging economic times, it is important for photographers (and artists working in all mediums) to continue to see how their peers are progressing and to stay in touch with a network of professionals who might otherwise never see their work.

The list below contains some notes about a handful of my favourite portfolio reviews [in no particular order]. A few I included because it was my first time meeting these artists in person and the others simply because the work deserves the recognition of a wider audience. I saw some truly exceptional bodies of work during my three days at Rhubarb Rhubarb and am grateful to those artists who chose me to review their portfolios.

Please enjoy visiting these artist’s websites:

Portfolio reviews Rhubarb Rhubarb Festival 2009

Ferit KuyasCity of Ambition.

Simply a stunning look at the foggy city in Chongqing! Not to be missed. “City of Ambition is a series of colour photographers from Chongqing, one of the largest cities in the world. The images aim to reflect the sheer dimensions of the cityscape and represent a city in transition.”


Toby SmithLight After Dark.

Smith has visited every Power Station in England, shooting at night using long exposures to produce compelling imagery of something perceived as crude when looked at in the hard light of day.

I like the contrast in the aesthetic portrayed – our perception of what the structures stand for ecologically and our dependency on their resources.


Kurt TongIn Case it Rains in Heaven. Paper offerings for the dead.

Many Chinese believe that when a person dies, he leaves with no earthly possessions and it’s up to their descendents to provide for them in their afterlife until their reincarnation.


Toby De SilvaA Perfect Place to Die.

Situated at the base of sacred Mount Fuji, the dark, grotesque and eerily silent forest of Aokigahara has for many years been Japan’s most notorious suicide destination. Often depicted in Japanese literature as haunted and deathly, it was described in Waturu Tsurumi’s The Complete Manual of Suicide as ‘The Perfect Place To Die’.


Dan DubowitzWasteland and any project this artist works on!


Reinaldo LourieroOut of Season.

These photographs portray the social and economic landscape of the Spanish greenhouse plains of the Mediterranean Basin. The work aims to document the changing nature of this marginal region in the fringes of Europe. The aim is to illustrate the scale of the mass-production of vegetables for northern European markets and the resulting industrialized landscape. Once a deserted land, today the Almería fields represent the largest concentration of plastic greenhouses in the world. However, this profitable agribusiness has pushed the land to its very environmental limits. documentaryreinaldoloureiro.blogspot.com

Peter AinsworthCovered (Chanctonbury Way).

Covered (Chanctonbury Way), 2009, is a body of work that depicts a palm tree in the artist’s father’s garden wrapped in material to protect it from frost over the winter months. The project was completed at the start of spring just before the covering became redundant as a protection from the cold weather.


Sean Hillen Irelantis.

In the original Irelantis collages, created between 1994 and 1998, Hillen mined popular culture for images of an idea of Ireland: a version of Irishness as expressed in the heightened vision of a John Hinde postcard. Hillen’s images have since become themselves a part of popular culture.


Yaakov IsraelLegitimacy of landscape.

Investigating boundaries and places that are usual to the Israeli landscape but still pass unnoticed to most of its residents.


Odette EnglandAttentional landscape.

The Ishihara Colour Test is the most common clinical test for colour blindness in humans. But, like mirages and memories, the circles of randomised dots are just optical phenomena. In this series, Odette England undertakes quasi-scientific experiments in manipulating the intended meaning and function of family photographs. Selectively and meticulously exposing personal snapshots through the Ishihara test plates, she explores how humans search, perceive and process imagery.

Odette England is one of The Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward 2009 selected UK winners.


Jeffrey VanderpoolDreams abandoned.

This project is a series that looks at unfinished building projects in the Greek landscape.


For more information about Rhubarb Rhubarb, please visit www.rhubarb-rhubarb.net.