Regional culture festival showcases fine-art photography

Oct 12, 2012 · Arts · By Anna Zoubakina

  • Anna Nguyen
  • Anna Nguyen
  • Anna Nguyen
  • Anna Nguyen
  • Photographer Sean Puckett showcased his work at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery as part of Foto:REís crusade to reclaim photography from its own ubiquity in the digital age.

    Anna Nguyen
  • Anna Nguyen

Over the past few weeks, my mother decided to tackle a daunting task in preparation for Thanksgiving: to take a family portrait. After the burden of furiously changing clothes and forced poses, the trial was still not over.

Why the effort? Why all that time and the shocking amount of money? I begged my mother for an answer; her response echoed connoisseurs and creators of art alike: “There is a difference between a good photograph and a great one.”

Jump back to last weekend, to the end of September. As the leaves fall, the Kitchener-Waterloo blooms with art, music, and literature during the third annual Culture Days initiative.

This national volunteer movement is dedicated to promoting the awareness and accessibility of Canadian culture, with Kitchener-Waterloo in the centre. The twin cities have been a noticeable figure in the cross-country landscape as an innovator of not just technology, but also art.

Interactive art and culture displays animate the downtown milieu, from the historic Walper Hotel to the more down-to-earth Farmers Market. Key players, like the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery (KWAG), have opened special exhibits to the public in order to endorse the city’s cultural depth and to single out notable artists.

A recurrent participant of Culture Days, and a featured exhibit in KWAG, is Foto:RE, a group founded locally with the vision to reclaim photography from its own ubiquity.

“There are photographs showing up on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere; people just look at them and they float away,” explained Sean Puckett, a member of Foto:RE and the artist in residence for the City of Kitchener last year. “We want to make sure that photography is treated as fine art once again.”


And he isn’t the sole soldier in the battle of the aesthetic over the conventional. Armed with four more international photography moguls — including Karl Griffiths-Fulton, an ex-BBC World correspondent who currently teaches in the University of Waterloo — Mark Walton, the founder of Foto:RE, initially gathered the group for selfish reasons. Walton sought distinguished photographers, locally and internationally, in order to expand his repertoire of skill.

“I did a show a couple of years ago where I got a great reception for my work and I realized, in earnest, that I wasn’t anywhere near that good as what people were saying,” Walton recalled.

Instead, what was created for scholastic purposes became a crusade with a cause: to not only educate themselves in becoming better photographers, but also to educate other photographers to make better work.

How does Foto:RE recommend achieving this aim?

“There are three different things that I would do,” instructed Puckett. “Continually expose yourself to photography that is great: look at photographer’s work that is well regarded and go to photography exhibits. Second thing is to take photographs yourself and try and look at them and figure out what makes certain images work and certain images don’t. And the third thing is to get trained, get educated. Becoming more aware of photography is basically the process of looking at it, examining it, and then, training about it.”

Although the success of Culture Days is subjective in its measurement, annual review provides some credit towards the achievement of its goals. Last year, over 66 per cent of the national attendees discovered local artists that they were previously unaware of and 90 per cent professed a desire for future participation.

For community groups like Foto:RE, this provides unmatchable self-assurance to expand to the national stage. Walton says that if he didn’t have the national recognition from Culture Days last year, he probably wouldn’t have been confident enough to go ahead with contacting nationally acclaimed institutions like the McMichael Art Gallery and Lumiere Press.

“I probably would have felt like we were just another local arts group,” Walton said, giving credit to the initiative.

As many students, I have become desensitized to the digital noise. The difference between a work of art and an Instagram-ed group shot becomes more out of focus every day.

“When you come up to an image and it arrests you, why does it arrest you?” Walton posed, urging us to notice great art.

So, drop your smartphones and get educated, fellow students. Because, if not for the sake of art itself, there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few weeks — there’s a lot of money in family portraits.


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