To say Vancouver is overdue for a large-scale photography festival is an understatement: for the past three or four decades, an army of talent—big names like Jeff Wall, Jim Breukelman, Rodney Graham—has helped put us on the map for the art form.
That’s why the founder and executive director of the new Capture Photography Festival—an ambitious, citywide event that runs for the next six weeks—felt she had to go big off the starting blocks. The first fest features no less than 56 gallery showings in venues from the Vancouver Art Gallery to Monte Clark Gallery to grunt gallery; 14 public-art sites; workshops, curator tours, film-fest screenings, and much more.
“It bothered me for so long that Vancouver didn’t have a photography festival and yet cities like Toronto did—and yet people recognize it as a place where talent comes from,” explains Kim Spencer-Nairn over tea at a Kitsilano coffee shop, talking about a project that took her three years to finally bring to fruition. “So I didn’t want it to be a small deal. For this, we deserve a big professional event.”
It was also important for Spencer-Nairn, working with festival director and curator Julie Lee, that Capture go far beyond showing the photoconceptual school that the city is best-known for. (Note, though, that the old guard is definitely on view, especially in an AHVA Gallery show at UBC called The Photo Show: 1969/2013—Exploring the Photo Conceptual Archive.) Capture wanted to acknowledge the city is home to a thriving commercial-photography industry, as well as to emerging artists who are blazing their own trails using new technologies. Running from now until November 15, the fest’s offerings will span a major exhibit of nudes and celebrity portraits by Greg Gorman at the Pendulum Gallery; a show of street photography by the likes of Lincoln Clarkes and Angela Fama at the Museum of Vancouver; billboard and Canada Line installations by Toronto star Ed Burtynsky; and, at Emily Carr University’s Concourse Gallery, a display of work by young artists hand-picked by veterans like Breukelman and Wall.
“I didn’t want this to be a highbrow, academic-only show. I wanted the street level there too,” explains Spencer-Nairn, who is modelling Capture in part after Toronto’s huge Contact Photography Festival. “Because if you’re going to celebrate photography, you want to celebrate all aspects of it.”
She stresses the importance of Capture as a platform for emerging artists as well as established ones. “Success for me would be an artist from this show, 10 years from now, getting a show at MoMA and saying their first big break was at Capture,” she says. “If you can have an event with more of a machine behind it, you have the chance to be part of something much bigger. It’s the catalyst they need to launch a career.”
Over the phone, Lee says she thinks the photography scene is better than it’s ever been, stressing that today’s innovations have Capture defining its content as “lens-based”. “There’s a new movement of interdisciplinary work all around the world and the structure or base for this is the lens,” says Lee. “I love the way photography is crossing the lines.” Examples at Capture include Brit artist Adam Fuss, who lays everything from babies to water droplets on Cibachrome paper to otherworldly effect at the Douglas Udell Gallery; or Breukelman’s new photo assemblages, which integrate imagery from children’s colouring books, at the Republic Gallery.
So just how is this team pulling it off? As a former accountant with a love of photography, Spencer-Nairn is ideally situated to present the art form without bias: she’s neither a collector nor a gallerist. As for money, Capture is being done, for its first year, without grants, relying instead on things like founding donors, sponsors, and a planned photo auction in May.
“There’s this idea in a lot of people’s minds that you must get public money to do things—but it is possible if you have a good idea and the community backs it,” Spencer-Nairn explains, admitting the organization still needs a “serious donor” for its next installment.
What the Capture team has going for it, of course, is the fact that, these days, almost everyone is “into” photography. Who hasn’t picked up their cellphone lately to click an image? “It’s the most accessible art form; everybody can relate in some way,” says Spencer-Nairn, “but a lot will say they haven’t picked up a paintbrush for years.”