Buenos Aires Illuminated: The Festival de la Luz 2014 Posted on 27 Aug 20:10 , 0 comments

Article by Anna Lowe.

I continue to marvel at the quantity, quality and passion of the cultural activities on offer in Buenos Aires.  This month, it’s the photographers of the city who have something to get excited about, the 25th edition of the Festival de la Luz has arrived – and it’s vast! This international photography festival, organised by the Fundación Luz Austral, presents 178 exhibitions by more than 500 artists from 31 countries and has filled cultural centres, galleries and museums across the city (and nationally). Although my photography skills pretty much end with an iPhone, Instagram and the ‘Mayfair’ filter, it’s hard not to get swept along in the excitement. Walking around the Recoleta Cultural Centre during the festival’s opening, it was inspiring not only to see such a varied array of styles and themes on display, but also the size and diversity of the crowd. Fine art photography is clearly still a medium with much resonance and relevance – especially with young people in Buenos Aires. 

This year’s ‘main’ exhibition in the Sala Cronopios of the Centro Cultural Recoleta is an Anthology of Humberto Rivas 1967-2007. Although often thought of as a portrait photographer, the sample here is broad. As well as his strong portraits (particularly interesting are the nudes in crucifix shape) we also see landscapes, dilapidated buildings, peeling walls and still lifes, evocative of a disquieting loneliness. In all his works, Rivas’ sense of careful composition, minimalism and use of texture are apparent.

Moving beyond Rivas, there are many other strong displays to capture the imagination. BRICS, by Marcus Lyon in room 11 displays images of the mass urbanization occurring in the ‘BRIC’ economies Brazil, Russia, India and China. Having worked with Amnesty International taking portraits of street children, Lyon later took a macro-view of these developing economies and developed a new artistic style to capture a “sweeping, grand vision of our today and our future.” We are presented with landscapes without horizons where expanding populations are trapped in limited physical spaces. I had the opportunity to speak with Lyon and, although undoubtedly disturbing, instead of predicting unavoidable Malthusian crisis, Lyon wishes to show the inherent opportunity of cities. The use of bright colours makes the images look like Lego bricks or computer motherboards – cities as machines. These are not photos aspiring to documentary realism but impressions of reality as Lyon sees it.  He explained, “The world is more complicated and my audience more photo-literate to be satisfied by a single documentary image. I want to express something bigger and these huge montages and constructed images allow me to do that.”

Other displays in the Centro Cultural Recoleta that provoke curiosity are Roger Ballen’s Asylum of Birds in room C which showcases photographs of the people and animals living together in a Johannesburg suburb. The word ‘Asylum’ refers to both a space of refuge and a place of insanity and we are presented with works that are claustrophobic and psychological. Sander and Somoroff’s Absence of Subject in Room 4 is also disconcerting. When Michael Somoroff looked at the 20th century portraits of August Sander he decided to remove the key portrait leaving us with only the dark and mysterious context. In Working Class Family a lone chair appears abandoned on a grassy lawn where once a father sat in it surrounded by his large family. Or in Blind Children, two books lie open on a table where two boys once read the Braille text.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Festival de la Luz is the excuse to visit many of the smaller cultural centres and galleries in the city. For example, tucked away in the slightly decaying Teatro San Martin on Corrientes, I visited a stunning exhibition by American Jamey Stillings. His Changing Perspectives: The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar won first place in 2013 International Photography Awards (IPA) and shows aerial photography of a Solar Electricity plant in the Mojave Desert of California. Stillings’ photography explores the tension at the intersection of nature and human activity yet the black and white shots of the dramatic landscape appear as almost abstract geometric constructions. When I met with him at the exhibition Stillings explained how he captured the site over a period of three years with 18 helicopter flights.I am observing something fresh and unique each time. I work rapidly and intuitively, aware of what is new and layering this awareness within the context of previous work I have shot.”

With so much on offer, the Festival de la Luz provides space for both amateurs and professionals to learn and be enriched. As well as the exhibitions themselves, free conferences, workshops, screenings, contests and book presentations provide almost endless opportunities for inspiration. To see so many different views of the world is a humbling experience and a testament to incredible versatility of the photographic medium.