Friday, September 19, 2008

Perpignan, part one

I've been back since Sunday night and have been slowly easing back into the rhythm of New York City. Warsaw was a great time, a beautiful city, and I met a lot of wonderful people there. As for Perpignan and Visa Pour L'Image, my experience there was equally positive and uplifting. But I will say that I really had to work hard to make it worthwhile. From the get-go, I knew I'd only have two days to get as much out of the festival as possible. I absolutely had to be in Warsaw on Saturday the 6th, so that meant I had to leave Perpignan mid-week, just as the majority of the people were arriving. But I definitely got a good sense of how the festival works and I look forward to attending again in the future.

My overnight trip to Perpignan, via Dublin and Barcelona, was a long and exhausting one. I landed in Barcelona at about 10:15 AM on Monday, September 1st. By then I was really starting to feel the effects of jetlag, especially after not getting any sleep on either of my flights. The real problem was that I had set up too strict of an itinerary for myself once I was on the ground. Once I had waited in line to get my passport stamped, then waited around for my luggage to appear and then finally gotten on board the Aerobus that was to take me into the center of Barcelona near the bus station, I knew I had cut it too close. I had planned to catch an 11:45 bus from Barcelona to Girona, Spain but I missed it by a mere four minutes. As I result, I missed my final bus, a 1:15 from Girona on into Perpignan. Long story short, I got to Perpignan around 8 PM instead of 3 PM. Fortunately my hotel was right near the train/bus station so that was convenient. I got checked in and unpacked at the hotel, washed up a little and set off into the center of Perpignan with a map to try to get my bearings for the next day. It didn't even occur to me that I could have made that night's projection at Campo Santo. But by that point I was completely spent and all I could think about was getting a good night's sleep.

The next morning I got registered at the Hotel Pams around 10 AM. Then I got signed up for a critique with a picture editor affiliated with ANI, Association Nationale des Iconographes. But that wasn't scheduled until 4 PM so I had plenty of time to check out all the exhibitions in the various venues around the old part of town. It's hard to say, I saw so much work, but probably the images that stuck out the most were Göskin Sipahioglu's images from Paris in May, 1968. These were on display in the Eglise des Dominicains, which just by itself is a pretty amazing space, but was made all the more impressive when lined with beautiful black and white prints.Around 3PM I went over and hung out in the courtyard at the Hotel Pams. I felt slightly awkward not knowing a soul, save for John Trotter, who I am surprised remembered me from so long ago. I recognized a few faces but for the most part I was a total loner.

Although I suppose it would have been perfectly appropriate to approach anybody sitting in that courtyard for a quick, casual portfolio critique, or even just shop talk, I wish it would have been more explicit. As in, designate one specific area of the courtyard and have it be solely for people who want to show their work around. I struck up a conversation with an Italian photographer sitting nearby, Eduardo Castaldo, and we looked at each other's portfolios. One of the last things he said to me before my ANI critique was something to the effect of "Now I know what I should have brought to show." I took it as a compliment.

Not knowing what to expect from my ANI reviewer, I went in with an open mind. But it didn't take long for the encounter to veer off in an uncomfortable direction. Basically, my reviewer said "You don't belong at Visa. Visa is all about hardcore photojournalism. This black and white is passé. You need to be showing color pictures, news pictures, reportage, tearsheets, etc." I am summarizing, of course, but that was the basic tone of it. I was slightly offended by how the reviewer didn't even look at every print in my book, and actually flipped through it three or four pages at a time. It was disheartening, and not because the person said Visa was the wrong place to be showing my kind of photography (in fact, that actually was somewhat close to what I had been expecting to hear). It was disheartening because at that point I thought it was going to be my one and only opportunity to show my work around to a professional. I had actually gone to Perpignan thinking I was going to be meeting with dozens of people. Eventually I just kind of relented and nodded a lot, with a lot of "Uh huh" "Yeah" and "Okay, I see." But it was a pretty uninspired review. At one point the person looked at their watch. "Oh, are we about out of time?" I asked. "No, actually, we've got a whole fifteen minutes left," implying that there was so much time to say so little. I thanked the person and left with ten minutes to spare and walked back to my hotel take a nap.

As I was lying around it was hard to resist the temptation to just stay in my room and sleep through that whole night, that's how tired I was. And I was seriously beginning to worry about getting back to Barcelona on time for my 1 PM flight on the 4th. One missed bus connection like I had on my way into Perpignan would have meant missing my flight to Warsaw. I considered leaving the very next morning, on Wednesday the 3rd, and just spending the whole day photographing in Barcelona. But then I'd have to find a hotel without doing any advance research, so I just decided to stick it out in Perpignan. I got out of bed, put on a fresh shirt and hoofed it back into the city center, still very much uncertain about the whole experience, not very happy with the way it was going.


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