Photography Everywhere: The MOP online
The Cape Town Month of Photography (MOP), directed by Geoffrey Grundlingh, attracts a great number of photographers, professional and amateur alike, to contribute to this multi-exhibition festival. Hosted by the South African Centre of Photography, the MOP this year (its third) spanned from 6-26 March, in a variety of established and makeshift venues around Cape Town. Notably, the Bell Roberts Gallery, a partner of MOP, exhibited four shows as part of the festival: Jennifer Lovemore-Reed's video installation45 Minutes as an Object, Giovanni Agresti Fiumara's fascinating black and white portraits entitled Capetonians, an all women show curated by Sanell Aggenbach entitled Sweet Nothings and Pieter Badenhorst's Rugby vs. Soccer.
Some other well-known photographers featured on the festival included David Goldblatt, Jenny Altschuler, Andrew Tshabangu, J�rgen Schadeberg, Dale Yudelman and Jean Brundrit. But the festival also attracts lesser known, emerging talent in the form of fringe exhibitions and solid contributions from students and creative institutes such as, most outstandingly, the Vaal University of Technology and City Varsity.
Interestingly, as in 2002, the MOP also hosted a couple of online exhibitions, which were curated by Dale Yudelman. This is remarkable, as one aspect of photographic exhibitions that always strikes me, is the beautiful tactility of photographs when displayed in a gallery context. The largeness of prints, allows us to admire the fine detail and texture, and in many senses seem to draw us into the surface and sustain a longer look than photographs in a commercial media context (such as newspapers or magazines).
However, that the MOP continued with the online exhibitions suggests that the festival gives credence to the context of digital media as a platform for photography, although it is different one to that of the gallery space. Photographers chosen by Yudelman are South African artists living abroad, and in this way he is able to show work that could not be included otherwise. Moreover, the work reveals remarkable interstices between South African voices and oversees content. The selection of works on these online exhibitions are indeed good examples of both the potential power of digital exhibitions as well as interesting photography in itself.
Photographers whose work are on the online shows are: Jennifer Lund, Jillian Edelstein, Larry Hirshowitz, Michael Potts, Nan Melville, Orde Eliason, Rhonda Klevansky, Tamsyn Adams, Vivian van Blerk and Janet Havemann.
One of my favourite of these are Nan Melville's exhibition Contrasts of Cuba. Melville's images span a variety of subjects: four ballerina's on tiptoe arabesques - an opening night at the 16th International Havana Dance Festival, a portrait of a woman sitting in a taxi, a man lighting a Cuban cigar, and so on. Pedestrian images one might say, but even so, they seem to both confirm and resist mental constructions we have of Cuba and resonate sentiments around notions of place, home and the everyday. In this way they seem to be in dialogue with a lot of the subject matter on offer on the local exhibitions.
In a more serious vein are the images of Rhonda Klevansky, who exhibits six studio portraits (from a larger portfolio of 52) of refugees living in London. The portraits show each refugee with one object that they have managed to salvage in their flight. These images have also been transformed into personal documents, in a sense created by the refugees, through added writing by them that explains how they have travelled, what the significance of their chosen object is, and more about their fears and hopes.
These online exhibitions might not be the centrepieces of the MOP, but I believe they add a valuable addition to the festival. I appreciate the fact that MOP did not simply attempt to use the Internet as a catalogue or information portal. Instead, they have utilised another public space in their broad grip, and it has served the MOP well.