An Interview with Louise Clements, Co-Founder of Format Festival, Artistic Director at Derby Quad, Curator and Writer.

louise clements

Originally posted on December 10th 2013

As a curator since 2008, Louise has initiated and curated many commissions and exhibitions of international contemporary art. In 2004 Louise established Format with Mike Brown, since then Format has become one of the UK’s leading non-profit international contemporary festivals of photography and related media.

Quad is Derby’s centre for art and film. Since 2008, Quad has sought to make art and film accessible to all. Incorporating a cinema, gallery, café, digital resource and workshops, Quad is inclusive and accessible to all.

We caught up with Louise to discuss Format, curating – the production of projects and exhibitions, her perceptions of the photography industry and more…

Genesisimaging: Hi Louise, are you ready to discuss photography, photo festivals, curating and more?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Sure am #imready

Genesisimaging: Great! Let’s talk about Format, what did you set out to achieve when you co-founded the festival?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): When I co-founded Format in 2004 we had ambitions to be a pioneering festival for the support, development and sharing of the scene.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): At the time things like smart phones and the internet weren’t ready for our ideas.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): The photo scene in the UK has grown hugely since then. Also internationally there are now many more festivals.

Genesisimaging: How have your aims/expectations changed since Format began in 2004?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements):After the first festival, which was run on goodwill and a shoestring, we spent time researching…

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): …visiting festivals and understanding structures. We realised that there is no one way, each location is unique mix of partners.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): But since the beginning festivals like Les Rencontres d’Arles, Noorderlicht Photo and FotoFest Intl. have been an inspiration…

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): …but going back to the question, our aims have remained very similar, our ambitions and opportunities have grown.

Genesisimaging: That brings us onto a Q by Lewis, who asks whether you think the increase in photo festivals – particularly in UK – is good news?

Genesisimaging: Or do you think there are just too many?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): France has over 90 festivals, a variety from fashion to documentary etc. I think there is room in the UK for diversity.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): More festivals are great for photographers and audiences. It is important for the programmers to make distinct programmes.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Sometimes issues arise when similar events happen too close together. Communication between festivals is important.

Genesisimaging: Jason asks, with regional arts cuts, how far into the future can you plan?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): We don’t only rely on ACE/city council funding. But sure, the cuts are an issue.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Planning is similar each time. It is a biennale festival, so the programme runs to the schedule.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): As with any ambitious programming, you often need to have ideas first and then find the resources.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): A unique aspect of FORMAT is the new commissions/exhibitions/events. These take about 2 years to plan and deliver.

Genesisimaging: What would you say has been the biggest thing that Format or Derby Quad have taught you?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): The experience of working on complex public events like FORMAT and the QUAD programme has taught me not to panic and keep strong with the ideas.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): The job can be high pressure, complex and you need to not be afraid of taking risks. Being calm and leading clearly is important.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Another thing that grows and deepens all the time is my love of photography, photographers and the expanded field of photography.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): It is a real pleasure working in the photography and art scene every day, all day, (and all night #sometimes… #toooften)

Genesisimaging: Great answer! How would you say that your perception of photography and art changed in the time you’ve worked in the creative industry?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Hard to say, I have been lucky to travel and collaborate all over the world so my understanding is enriched by this diversity.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): The scene is constantly changing and I enjoy contributing to it and learning about it.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Especially since the social media and blog boom, there is so much information and activity.

Genesisimaging: Couldn’t agree more – information and images have become a lot more accessible.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Something that’s happening more now is that the boundaries between forms is blurring. New tech start-ups are an emerging area of creativity.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Photo-books, photo-slideshows, photo-festivals, online magazines, pop-up exhibitions, etc. all offer more opportunities to be visible.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): The struggle remains regarding how to make money and survive as a self-employed artist and how to sustain practice for a number of years.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): It is something we are sensitive to at FORMAT and we try to support practitioners as much as we can.

Genesisimaging: Let’s talk about how you got into the creative industry… Where did your interest in photography and art begin?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): I grew up in the New Forest in an artist and inventor community. My family gave me a camera when I was a child…

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): …it was a Pentax, it was magic.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): It inspired me to be an artist, I studied art and photography in tandem through to degree level. I became an artist.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): I also ran and taught in a darkroom, while curating and organising different festivals, working in galleries, playing in bands.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Then I did a curating MA in 2001. I started working in Derby in 2002 and built Derby Quad with the team. See more on LinkedIn ;)

Genesisimaging: And do you still take photographs yourself?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Yes, every day.

Genesisimaging: Brilliant, really interesting to see where your interest began and how it developed.

Genesisimaging: Which image or body of work has had the most profound influence or effect on you?

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Hard question #thinking.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): Too many to choose one… but to say something about what inspired me when I first started learning about photography…

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): …I would say Niépce and contemporaries.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): The early pioneers and inventors of photography are incredibly inspiring.

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): But this year an exhibition that was intelligent, provocative and important – Alfredo Jarr, The Politics of Images at Les Rencontres d’Arles.

Genesisimaging: Great answers! Really interesting insights into you and your work at Format and Quad. Sadly all we’ve got time for!

Genesisimaging: Thank you Louise for taking the time to talk to us this afternoon… it’s been great!

Mazmanian (Louise Clements): It was a pleasure!

Find out more about Format at formatfestival.com.

Find out more about Derby Quad at derbyquad.co.uk

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