Three years ago, as director of Ffotogallery – the national development agency for photography – I was invited to present an exhibition of eight Welsh photographers at Fotosommer Stuttgart, a major festival in Germany.
It was then that the ideas for Diffusion were sown.
I wanted to reciprocate by inviting German artists to show work in Cardiff, which is twinned with Stuttgart. That got me thinking that Cardiff is in many ways the perfect city to host an international festival of photography. It is lively and creative, culturally rich and welcoming, combining an international outlook with a passionate local heart.
As well as existing venues, the city has some really interesting empty buildings with the potential to become temporary galleries.
When I shared my idea for an international photography festival in Cardiff, it seemed to strike a chord with artists and organisations across the city, in other parts of Wales and further afield. As a capital city, Cardiff offers a platform for the whole of Wales and beyond. Hence, projects initiated in Aberystwyth, Swansea and Newport will feature strongly in the programme, as well as those developed through international partnerships.
For the first Diffusion festival, I feel we have created an international standard programme that is diverse, inclusive and engaging, both outward facing and rooted in Welsh experience today. We asked artists, cultural producers, curators and programmers to address the question ‘And Where Are We Now?’ with their proposed contributions to Diffusion 2013.
People encounter photographic images daily not only in newspapers, magazines, on TV and in advertising, but also through online channels, mobile phone applications and social networking sites. The boundaries are increasingly blurred between artist and audience, amateur and professional. However, photography, perhaps the world’s most democratic and visible medium, is a compelling vehicle to record contemporary life as lived, and to help us imagine a future orientated new European identity.
The work we have selected reflects various artist commissions and projects taking place in Wales, both international collaborations and the bringing together of homegrown talent. There are several big names – such as David Bailey, David Hurn, Philip Jones-Griffiths, Geoff Charles, Helen Sear, Jeremy Deller, Maurizio Anseri, Gideon Koppel and Tim Davies – but also a number of emergent artists who are receiving their first major exposure through the festival.
Festival highlights include the world premiere of award-winning filmmaker Gideon Koppel’s Borth and Lure, a major exhibition of new work by Helen Sear, another of Wales’ most important and insightful artists.
The Valleys Re-Presented explores the relationship between image, myth and location and includes classic work by renowned photographers such as David Bailey, Maurice Broomfield and John Davies alongside newly commissioned projects by Zhao Renhui, Sean Edwards and Alicia Bruce.
European Chronicles features a number of solo projects by artists from across Europe, and presents an alternative view of Europe from the mosaic of photographic imagery being produced in the region today.
But It’s Not Late, It’s Only Dark will be Italian artist Maurizio Anzeri’s first solo exhibition in Wales, featuring previously unseen works alongside his famous photo-sculptural pieces.
Acclaimed Portuguese artist Edgar Martins presents his recent project The Time Machine, and camera-less photography is represented by Swiss artists fd cartier’s intriguing installation Wait And See.
Peter Bobby’s High-rise uses photography and video to critique the global phenomenon of high-rise architecture, questioning its relationship to the city below.
One challenge for us has been converting the historical Tram Shed in Cardiff’s Riverside area into one of the main festival venues. It is a vast industrial space, and listed building, and the buses, trucks and engineers have only just left. We had two weeks from mid-April to transform the bus depot into a new venue for three exhibitions and I’m really excited about that prospect and bringing this historical building into arts use for the first time.
During the festival’s opening week, there will be exhibitions and events across the city, including a symposium at National Museum Cardiff, with a keynote address by internationally renowned artist Richard Wentworth. Throughout the month there will be free exhibitions, artist talks and workshops, family friendly activities and photographic rambles around the city.
We see Diffusion as a celebration of photography and the photographic image, in all its forms. Whether created, published, exhibited, collected or distributed in a physical or virtual way, the photograph has the power to inspire and provoke reaction, to reflect our own experience and that of society evolving around us.
Diffusion: Cardiff International Festival of Photography runs from May 1 to 31. For full details visit www.diffusionfestival.org