• Andy Whysall

Format 2019 - Derby

My second visit in 60 years to Derby. The first time went was 2012 with my BBC colleagues to pick up an award, so it's clearly a place of good things. I remembered it being a compact, generally low-rise, place like Carlisle, and that makes it perfect for a multi-venue image festival such as Format because of the inevitable walking between small exhibitions.

At a time when we all have exhibition mechanics in our heads, there might well have been more looking at hanging hardware, print production and book-binding as there was studying the actual images themselves. I'm not going to write a review of Format here, suffice to say it was an eye-opener for a first-timer at a big photo-fest.

But I will say that the real stand-out was Craig Easton's Sixteen in the market hall; 16 portraits by 16 photographers, of 16-year-olds with text by the subjects about what it is to be 16 in 2019. The text was crucial - so diverse in outlook and developing philosophy of life; there was a very genuine feeling of a cross-section of British society. I wish I'd photographed it, because I can't find it online, but the text by a girl from Fair Isle (look on a map half way between Orkney and Shetland) revealed a strength of character that only remote island living can produce. I felt she was going to do OK in life.

A surprise stand-out too was the show by students ('learners') from Burton and South Derbyshire College, themed on old-master portraiture. "Unjaded eyes' says the Format blurb.

Finally - favourite venue. The Tramshed. Bright, airy, post-industrial, smelled of cement and bricks. Just a great evocative environment.

The overall learning experience, for me at least, was about choice. The options for showing are almost endless. I had seen plenty working at the museum, but Format brought out a whole new world of print styles, backing materials, framing, fixings, curating and locations and use of available space. Early the most convenient spaces of the lot were the empty market stalls in both Derby market and the Eagle market. Every market has empty stalls. All it takes is asking the question...can one (or two or three...) be used for a temporary exhibition?

It was a bonus to see Tracey Orr at work photographing young women for her Saturday girl project which made a nice feature in the Guardian a couple of weeks later.

Typically I hoovered up leaflets and free postcards of exhibited work and If there hadn't been so much walking to do I would have bought more than the one book. And even that single book was actually bought online on the bus heading home from Derby. Actually No more no less, a found-photograpy collaboration between Kensuke Koike and Thomas Sauvin isn't a book, it's an object in its own right of which only 400 copies exist and only a handful of them are signed like this one. The publisher emailed me to say lucky me, this is one that Koike actually signed at Derby the day before I ordered it. I should say one of the publishers since Koike and Sauvin took it to three publishers to produce and none was allowed to see the other's idea until they had been printed. A great article to be found on lensculture.com. Because of it's so lightly constructed I'm not keen on over-handling it, but here are some pictures to give you an idea what a treasure this little thing is.

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