Format Festival ; a Personal Perspective

Format international photography festival, 2014.

Originally Posted on April 7th 2014

Format provides a year-round programme of exhibitions, events and professional development opportunities alongside Format festival which takes place at Derby Quad every other year. This year, Format Festival provided a unique off-year programme in-between, which provided a series of exhibitions, talks, events and international portfolio reviews last weekend.

Amongst the festival programme, talks from a wide range of individuals were included alongside the portfolio reviews, providing an interesting and varied experience that allowed photographers to gain insight into others practice, theories and approaches. Mark, Genesis’ Creative Director, chose to host his talk as a question and answer session – encouraging discussion and debate about everything from different techniques to archival processes and finishing options.

The portfolio walk, which took place later in the day on the Saturday, gave photographers the opportunity to showcase their work to reviewers, VIP guests and members of the public. This one-night-only event presented a unique opportunity to meet the emerging and established image-makers taking part in the festival and to gain insights into their practice and motivations.

Later that evening the Format International Portfolio Awards took place at Derby Quad, with prizes being awarded to photographers who took part in the reviews over the weekend. We, at Genesis are proud to have supported the awards, offering a bursary award of £500 towards any of our services. Mark tasked me with the challenge of choosing the recipient for our award – an eye opening experience and an exceptional opportunity to delve into the vast work which was presented at The Portfolio Walk. For me, this was an opportunity to ask questions and to discover more about the motivations of the photographers and the work which they had presented. Indeed, it was no light task and as the enormity of the quick decision making required soon struck me.

The delicate, tonally gentle representations of the human form by Justin Newhall soon caught my eye – whilst at a glance the images appear as delicate traces, they simultaneously echo something harder, colder and more poignant.

Found during an exploration of Dene Village, the images that make up Northern Studies Dene Village Portfoliohad been found inside a black plastic wrapped package which Justin thought initially to be phone books. Once opened, he found more than 200 pornographic images of women – not from magazines, but rather 8 x 10 inch glossy photographs. The haunting presence of these women, wrapped in plastic, concealed and left in the relics of a home in an abandoned village has a poignancy that outlives the original fetishized intentions of the images.

Dene Village’s inhabitants – who were once a tribe – had been moved away from the land which once sustained them by the Canadian government. The inhabitants soon turned against themselves in a cycle of alcohol addiction, poverty and violence that resulted in the deaths of one third of its inhabitants within a decade.

The glossy prints which Newhall found had been transformed by a series of freeze and thaw cycles, transforming these once seedy props into delicate ghost-like images. These images do not glamourize the events which happened at Dene Village nor do they depict anything recognisably explicit. They are instead about the passage of time which has altered and engaged with them in a way that echoes the violence that happened at the site yet also depicts a certain gentility.The prevailing point for me was the fact that Newhall recorded these images before placing them back in the way in which he had found them. These images had been hidden – either to protect them or to protect someone from them and Newhall’s respect for them resonated with me in a poignant way – when Mark gave me the task of choosing the recipient, he said to do so from the heart’ and that’s exactly what I did.

The Awards were followed by a set by Al Pitcher, infamous photo-comedian, whose set was centred on a place close to everyone’s heart; the city of Derby. His set was relatable, humorous and touching – a great way to end a fantastic photo-filled weekend.

…We’re already looking forward to Format ’15!

Gabrielle & The Genesis Team

Find out more about Format Festival at

See more of Justin Newhall’s work at

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