Channel / 14 Oct 2021

Director's Blog Post - September 2021

Behind the Choices We Make

As we launch Diffusion this month, I have been asked by a number of people in Wales how Ffotogallery makes decisions around which artists and bodies of work to present. As the senior curator and artistic director at Ffotogallery, I am happy to discuss these matters and advise artists at any stage in their career on how their work can be developed and best be presented to audiences in exhibition, print or online form.

The short answer to the question posed to me is that there are interweaving factors that lie behind the programming decisions we make. For Many Voices, One Nation we put out an open call at Diffusion 2019 with the Senedd, and in 2020 I invited photography leaders across Wales to nominate two or three emerging talents that deserved wider exposure. We selected the 20 artist projects on the basis of the quality of the work, the contemporary relevance of their subject. In making the final selection, we sought to achieve a gender balance, diversity and equitable representation of artists and photographers from different regions of Wales.

Michal Iwanowski’s Go Home Polish, Mike Perry’s Land/Sea, Zillah Bowes’ Green Dark, Suzie Larke’s Unseen, Hilary Powell’s Tin Works, Richard Jones’ <Truth DeQay>, Janire Najera’s Atomic Ed and Maryam Wahid’s Motherland were projects realised after many months, and in some cases many years, of advice, support, dialogue and encouragement.

During lockdown, I had hundreds of online and face-to-face meetings with artists and creative partners, undertook portfolio reviews and initiated digital collaborations with India, Africa, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the Americas. The five Imagining the Nation State India-Wales commissions, Tim Georgeson’s Truth in Fire, Where’s My Space?, The Place I Call Home, A Woman’s Work, Mary Farmilant’s Natura Consonat and Lydia Panas’ Holding On, and the More Than a Number exhibition of 12 African artists, brilliantly curated by our Creative Producer Cynthia Sitei, are just a few examples of international collaborations which were made possible by the digital platforms and tools at our disposal.

Over the last 13 years as Director of Ffotogallery, I have always championed new work and new ideas, bringing exciting and relevant international work to Wales, and enabling Wales-based artists to gain wider exposure internationally. My approach is to deep-dive into the field, as often as possible attending student and established artist shows and international festivals and events. I research extensively, travel far and wide to see work, and read avidly so I can reflect on and contribute to current debates in photography. I am always keen to speak to artists about their work and receive recommendations from my peers.

In recent years, photography in Wales has experienced something of a renaissance. Not just in terms of the number of talented photographic artists active and regularly exhibiting their work, at home and abroad, but also due to fruitful and inventive cross-pollination of ideas and approaches. Gone are the traditional divides between documentary and fine art, fashion and photojournalism. Today, the photographic medium is more often than not combined with text and the spoken word, moving image, music and even an element of performance. The artwork typically presented in both print and electronic form, existing simultaneously in the gallery, on the page and across various web and social media platforms.

The most exciting contemporary photographic work emerging in Wales eschews the tendency towards nostalgia and whimsy that has dominated British photography over the last thirty years. It chooses not to look back at the idiosyncrasies of class and culture through a rose-tinted lens, but to address the most pressing issues of the day, around representation, social and economic disparities, health and wellbeing, environmental responsibility, diversity and inclusion. Above all, it is work that critically examines the relationship between identity and nationhood, revealing not only what divides us, but also the ties that bind us together as a nation.

David Drake, 30 September 2021