The fourth iteration of Cincinnati’s photo biennial, FotoFocus opens today, including more than ninety exhibitions, some of which are curated by the biennial, as well as a host of satellite shows throughout Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Dayton and Columbus. It is the largest biennial dedicated to photography in the United States.
“This year’s biennial is focusing on the wider picture—the stories behind the lens that don’t often get told,” says Mary Ellen Goeke, FotoFocus’s executive director. “With a topic like Open Archive [the theme for this year’s biennial] we’re actually working against organizing around a single theme or trend, instead trying to draw attention to the photographer’s process… What you see when you look at a picture is just a snapshot of a greater narrative, that is often cropped out, but privately valued, and often stored away.”
“We’re interested in artists who seem to reveal something of the current moment,” adds Kevin Moore, the artistic director and curator for the biennial, “even when reaching back in history to artists such as Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott. Our minds are on ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ at the moment, finding those concepts harder and harder to define and agree upon in our contemporary media climate.
“Cincinnati is a unique city and is proud of its history,” he continues. “We activate the various institutions—the major art institutions but also smaller and newer ones all over town—to create a treasure map of sorts, to get people out into the community and into places they may have never visited before.”
Within the extensive programme, we picked out five must-see shows.
Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, Time and the Image
Emerging during Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war, Akram Zaatari explores identity and the role photography plays in defining it. In his images we see stilted, newly-married couples awkwardly standing together, looking somehow too small for the clothes they’re wearing. We also see bodybuilders posturing, this time their muscles looking as though they’ll pop out their skin—awkward and slightly unnatural in a different way. This show in particular focuses on “fissures, scratches, erosion”; moments when the photo peels away to reveal its own construction.
From 5 October to 10 February 2019 at Contemporary Arts Center
Wide Angle: Photography Out of Bounds
Photographic manipulation and recomposition are central to this show, which brings together photographers who work with collage and multimedia, blurring the distinctions between mediums. The line-up is impressive, with big names such as Robert Rauschenberg, Marilyn Minter, Sol LeWitt and Christian Marclay. The works are often humourous, subversive and, sometimes, downright bizarre.
Until 18 November at Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery
Chris Engman: Prospect and Refuge
How do we understand photographs, and how do we experience the world? These are two questions raised by Chris Engman in his dreamy photos, which bring the natural world and manmade interiors together, blurring the lines between them. He refers to his creations as “architectural landscapes”, and his latest site-specific work Containment has been created especially for the biennial. His work has been referred to as “a fabricated reality that feels incredibly real.”
Until November 18 at Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery
Replace with Fine Art: A Response to Modern China
Five Chinese and Chinese-American artists come together in this exhibition, which explores contemporary China, heritage and modernization. The show takes its title from a 1917 phrase by Cai Yuanpei “replace religion with fine art”. It suggests, quite rightly so, some might say, that artistic expression is on a par with religion and morality. The late and brilliant Ren Hang, who appeared on the cover of our Beyond Gender issue, is among the selected artists.
Until 2 November at Art Academy of Cincinnati: Ruthe G. Pearlman Gallery
Jenny Odell: People Younger Than Me Explaining How To Do Things
The title is pretty catchy and self-explanatory—the show brings together YouTube footage of teenagers and young adults delivering the prolific and much-mocked “how to” tutorial to camera. How can you boost your cleavage? How can you make your hair look thicker? How do you build your own confidence? Expect answers—some helpful, others decidedly less so—aplenty.
From 12 October to 13 October at Archive of Creative Culture