Houston has rolled out the welcome mat for 275,000 photography enthusiasts that will converge on the city for the 16th FotoFest photography fair.
The six-week citywide festival brings together 34 international artists, scientists, scholars and environmental thinkers confronting a burgeoning crisis: humanity’s effect on global climate change.
Opening this week and running through April 24, Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet showcases photography in 120 participating spaces—museums, galleries, nonprofit art spaces, universities and civic spaces—across the city. Whether it’s exotic National Geographic-style animal prints or eerie black-and-white landscapes of a future scarred Earth, artists engage in a conversation about humanity’s relationship to the natural world and the potential for creative action to effect global environmental change.
“Today’s young are fatigued by bad news,” says FotoFest Chairman and Co-Founder Fred Baldwin. “We wanted to offer them beauty and wonder, as well as intelligible options, through a range of approaches that give a broad audience a way in.”
From artist talks to video presentations, fine print auctions, concerts and tours, FotoFest offers a surfeit of things to do and see. Here are some of the highlights:
- Treasures inside fair venues
Biennial exhibitions are located in four venues. Three of them—Silver Street Studios, Spring Street Studios and The Silos at Sawyer Yards—are converted warehouses in Houston’s newly established Washington Avenue Arts District, just west of Downtown.
Silver Street Studios is showing Karen Glaser’s Springs & Swamps panoramas, Gina Glover’s series on the metabolic landscape and Jamey Stillings’ look at the evolution of Ivanpah Solar, among others. Spring Street Studios highlights 11 photographers, including National Geographic artists David Doubilet, David Liittschwager and Joel Sartore.
The Silos opted for a multimedia show featuring German anthropologist Ingo Günther’s group of glowing globes, which visualize global data—anything from political conflicts to life expectancy to car volume to dead zones on the planet. Elsewhere, Williams Tower houses Fruit Loop mountains and Chicago rooftop shots.
- Discover the lesser known
Each year, FotoFest asks ten curators to identify one particularly noteworthy “discovery” from last year’s portfolio review. The result is 10 handpicked photographers worthy of recognition. Whether it’s Clare Carter’s harrowing body of work on Corrective Rape in Africa or Maxine Helfman’s look at gender through boys in dresses, Mahtab Hussain’s work on masculinity and Muslim men or Meghann Junell Riepenhoff’s Cyanotypes.
- Go behind the scenes
Throughout the month, artists and curators will engage with the public in dialogues, book signings and portfolio viewings on the evenings of March 18, 23 and 29 at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. Look out for artists Dornith Doherty, Chris Jordan, Jason Larkin, Toby Smith and Susan Derges, who will be joined by curators Wendy Watriss, Celina Lunsford and Malcolm Daniel.
Also, join artists, scientists and critical thinker in Marfa Dialogues, a series of presentations, discussions and short films on a range of social issues, from floodscapes and dried out basins of the west to a look at food security through seed banks. The dialogues will run from March 24 to 26, at various galleries in Houston.
- Create your own art
Make your own masterpiece from recycled materials at FotoFest’s Earth Day celebration. Visitors will also meet friendly Texas critters, learn how to plant and grow a garden and more eco-creative family activities at Silverstreet Studios on April 17.
- Watch sunset through a mind-bending skyspace
Since the 1970s, Turrell’s artistic vision has been focused on the “skyspace,” an enclosed structure that allows one to observe the sky. His recent Twilight Epiphany features a viewing area with a large square oculus that rests atop a campus quad at Rice University. At certain hours just before sunrise and sunset, an LED light sequence projects onto the ceiling through the aperture, complimenting the natural light. Up to 120 people can enter the pyramidal structure.
- Peruse galleries—on wheels
Ride the whole way or meet up with the group on a leisurely bike ride from exhibit to exhibit, visiting several studio spaces with tours by local artists. The event will begin at Silver Street Studios on April 23.
- See it on screen
After gallery hopping, kick back with popcorn and a movie at FotoFest’s Environmental Film Series, a presentation of prize-winning films addressing environmental concerns at the new Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston throughout March and April. Another film to catch is the premiere of The Colorado: a Film Oratorio, a multidisciplinary film performance with live music and chorus that explores water, land and life in the Colorado River basin on April 12.
- Enjoy the work at your own leisure
The 2016 Biennial catalogue is a compilation of photographs from all 34 artists in the Biennial, including Edward Burtynsky, Susan Derges, Vik Muniz, Jamey Stillings and many others. The catalogue, which features statements from each artist reflecting on their artistic process alongside essays and scientific context. The catalogue will be available April 11. Also, purchase the Changing Circumstances – Looking at the Future of the Planet, a new book co-published by Schilt Publishing, that presents international contemporary photography, video and new media art addressing climate change.
Beyond FotoFest, bookstores carrying published works include the Houston Center For Photography, the Menil Collection bookstore and Domy Books. Photographers will be on hand at the exhibits to sign books.
- Bring your favorite photo home with you
Bid on your favorite piece at FotoFest’s Fine Print Auction on March 21 at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel. Renowned auctioneer and photography expert Denise Bethel will lead the live auction, which will feature 71 artworks from 60 artists.
- Other must-sees in Houston
See additional lectures and forums organized with universities, and over 100 independently organized exhibitions at participating venues across the city, including: Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston; the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, Houston; CENHS (the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University), in collaboration with the Rice Building Workshop, Houston; Arts Brookfield, Houston; and the Houston Center for Photography.
Additional citywide events include the Children’s Museum of Houston, Catherine Couturier Gallery, Ben Butler’s structures installation, Lowel Collins’ Transmissions of Light exhibit, Caroline Roberts’ cyanotypes at the Lawndale Art Center and work by Salvador Dali.
Rachel Lowry is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @rachelllowry.
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