Report on FOTOFEST2008


People have been very kind about enquiring about the health and attitude of Wendy and me as the Biennial passes to its conclusion. The following questions seem to be the favorites: Is it fun? Are you exhausted? What is the next FotoFest going to be about? What are you going to do when it's over?

The last two questions are easy to answer: "We haven't had time to think about it." The second question about exhaustion depends on what time the question is asked. "No" is the answer prior to 11 p.m. but after this my reply becomes increasingly heartfelt ranging from: "Please don't ask me to dance" to "Are you coming to my funeral?"

Everybody is definitely having fun.

"Are you having fun?" is the question that I stumble over every time. Of course I am not having fun but then I have to ask myself; why would Wendy and I voluntarily do something that is not fun. This is a complex subject and I must stop to carefully consider my innermost feelings on the subject. After all, we are neither saints nor masochists-and for twenty-five years? Of course, this question could lead to a somewhat longwinded self-serving diatribe-all the good news about FotoFest's massive impact on this or that-but a party is not an appropriate place to provide material for my obituary. Nonetheless, I would really like to figure out what to say when a well intentioned person asks me whether I am "having fun". Perhaps the best thing to do is to blog it. In this way I can let it come to me like a dream. If I fail it won't matter as it's not essential to be responsible, analytical, or particularly intelligent-I'm feeling more comfortable already-so this is now a blog.

A pretty lady posed this question and it occurred to me to obliquely inquire; "You are such an attractive young woman, surely you have been in love with someone and many with you-if so, was it fun?-and I'm not talking about slipping under the sheets with someone!" This serious question did not produce the response that I had hoped for. Perhaps she thought it was too penetrating, maybe that's what the pretty lady thought I was up to because she rapidly retreated, concluding that talking to the old wheezer was a bad mistake and to hell with "ARE YOU HAVING FUN?" Further bad results have blunted my zeal for this method of intellectual probing so I am trying my luck here in Blogland, where anything goes, or so I'm told.

Everybody sees movies, videos, CD's and I hear from my most hip advisors that a number of bloggers also read books and listen to classical music and at least three have been caught reading poems and one was seen at the opera. I bring this up because classical perspectives about falling in love is standard fare for many great artists who provide useful clues about the question and provide insights into the difficult issue whether it was ever fun?

Tristan and Isolde seem to be having fun but that creep on the right will cause trouble.

Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet were all doing it and their experiences raise the issue of how anything that guarantees the possibility of rejection, family squabbles, misunderstandings, and cuts down on your free time, can be very expensive, deprives you of so much sleep and often sends you to the grave, can be fun?

I'm talking about actively falling in love, long term-not a fling of the moment-taking a lot of steps - working hard to consummate this condition. This is the level of commitment that I am trying to analyze. You may eventually have some fun but there are so many challenges associated with this chancy activity. Of course everybody does it but not for the uncomplicated reasons lurking behind the question. Most people don't set out, take a course, or read a book on how to fall in love. It's like getting the flu. It just happens. The fun analogy is so far off base, so completely insufficient that I feel it is necessary to add a few more elements to bring us to an understanding about falling in love or in the case of Wendy and me; "falling in FotoFest."

The personae that Wendy and I are smitten with speaks roughly twenty-four languages and has more than 450 personalities, each providing us with elements that bring us joy like delicate whiffs of perfume, individually formulated by the people we hang out with.

But as in any relationship, moments of pain are delivered as well, mixed in the crowd like too much cigarette smoke. Being a person who can't possibly cope with being so much being in FotoFest alone, it is important to have a loyal strong family, seven members in our case, to help us through such a complicated love affair. Then we have family relatives and friends who back us up during our most turbulent moments.

Half of Marta Sanchez-Philippe's brothers and sisters come from Mexico City to assist. There are extreme cases like Go Go (George) Neykov who travels from Bulgaria to help out just because he got hooked in 1990 when he had an exhibit of his photography at FotoFest. There is Karen Whitaker, who deserts her husband in Calgary, to volunteer at FotoFest for a few weeks helping to coordinate the office. There are countless others who appear at every Biennial like Jake and Betty Moody.

Jake is now world famous as "Mr. Five More Minutes". His spirit has been replicated in fourteen countries around the world as the Meeting Places multiply. He even has an assistant, Dave Wilson who has traveled from a job in Singapore to join us on his vacation time. It's a tightly knit dedicated group. Mike and Mickey Marvin have given their time and more at every FotoFest since 1986. Private homes ranging from modest to opulent are opened to our reviewers as they are wined and dined, a vital ingredient in keeping our romance going, which of course is fun, but there are so many other demands that the object of our affection requires. Don't forget to send flowers, write often, arrange accommodations, and put together her vast travel schedule-hundreds of thousands of miles for the beloved-because our true love is not a local.

We produce tantalizing poems that hint at our greatness and our loving nature that are delivered to the oracles for worldwide distribution to cheer our beloved. But much of this hard work is sometimes disappointing-a click in the dark because these busy oracles are not too reliable, after all they invented smoke and mirrors and its not easy to wrap-up our story with an ode to our loved one who speaks twenty-four languages and has 450 personalities - even with a dump truck full of pixels.

Like all great romances there are odd little aberrations that live in the shadows-a whole category of things that don't quite fit into the agenda of our hopes. Some are wormy midget snakes that come out from under clammy stones and describe themselves as Blogs. They need to be avoided, not because of their tiny teeth but because of their bad odor. Then there are nice petable blogs, and multiple colored avian ones with big brains that fly around and send songs and interesting messages around the big Cyber forest. We pay attention to one category but ignore the other.

I have tried my best to expose the inadequacy of "Are you having fun?" with falling in FotoFest but I still haven't made a strong enough case to make my point so let me add an additional allegory.

We are trying to make a movie about the Garden of Eden, we have the actors in place, and a lot of friendly animals are munching on the stuff that grows in Paradise. Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz are in great shape and romping around in the all-together but in the middle of the first shoot, the director gets the script mixed up and suddenly it's a film about the end of the world and its 40 below zero because a comet just took out Florida. A big snake gives Cameron an apple which turns out to be a hand grenade and Brad needs to make a new suit out of the nearest lion because his fig leaf is freezing.

This is what it felt like when one third of our exhibitions got stuck in customs for an extra week after the shipment had already cleared. The un-packed, un-matted, un-framed photographs from China were delivered the morning they were supposed to go on various walls for the 6:00 p.m. opening the same day. Apparently the script got switched in Washington and because of the "classified" nature of scripts, the days and nights of frantic calls from Wendy, lawyers, staff, and friends "who knew people" could find no answers. For a while we thought the meteor had taken out Washington but we survived by not going to bed until the job was done one day later.

I am sure that Brad and Cameron will figure out a solution by the end of our film and we plan to arrange something so that they can finally have some fun for the required happy ending but it will require more hard work - and the bills.

Fred Baldwin,
April 22, 2008

Photographs taken with a Leica Digilux 2

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