A focused look at some fresh viewpoints

Magda Biernat’s “San-Zhr Pod Village.’’ Magda Biernat’s “San-Zhr Pod Village.’’ (The Magenta Foundation)
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / June 7, 2011

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Hundreds of photographers and photography aficionados spent this past weekend taking in lectures, panel discussions, and a sangria party at Flash Forward Festival Boston. The hobnobbing is over, but the exhibitions are still up, including an international survey of young photographers, a promising look at 10 local ones, and a handful of quirky photographic art installations outdoors at the Fairmont Battery Wharf in the North End.

The Magenta Foundation, a nonprofit arts publishing house based in Canada, organized the festival showcasing emerging photographers. Its Flash Forward program supports Canadian, American, and British photographers under 35.

“We want to catch them and teach them how to have a career,’’ said MaryAnn Camilleri, Flash Forward’s director. Panel discussions were aimed at photographers, collectors, and other fans, and featured some big names in the medium, including photographer Todd Hido and curator Susan Bright.

Last October, the first Flash Forward Festival took place in Toronto, featuring an exhibition of the 2010 winners. That show was retooled for the festival here.

Boston photo fans may have seen previous Flash Forward exhibits at the Griffin Museum of Photography, in Winchester. For this year’s festival, Camilleri invited the Griffin’s executive director, Paula Tognarelli, and George Slade, curator at the Photographic Resource Center, to organize “Fresh Works: A Sampler of New England Photographers’’ — a more absorbing exhibit than the festival’s larger “Flash Forward 2010 Group Show.’’

The distinction points up the difference between a curated exhibit and a juried one: Depth versus breadth. Juried shows — the “Flash Forward 2010’’ exhibit for one — tend to be broad and democratic, rather than tacking toward a singular vision. Curated shows — even if they are, like this one, samplers — can be better tailored, thanks to the disciplined eyes of a good curator.

The “Flash Forward 2010’’ show hopscotches among documentary work, photojournalism, and fine art photography, with only a couple of images for each artist. That could work if the installation created correspondences from one image to the next, but the organization feels random. Without thematic or formal ties, the show is crowded and hard to digest.

Still, many of the dozens of photographs are remarkable. Standouts include American Magda Biernat’s “San-Zhr Pod Village,’’ from the series “Inhabited.’’ Biernat traveled far and wide to shoot the different types of spaces in which people live. This Taiwanese village looks like a 1960s vision of the future: double-stacked pods, often candy-colored, around a concrete-rimmed pond. But the pool is overgrown, and one of the pods has collapsed — a vision of a utopian dream, crumpled.

From Christopher Chadbourne’s gaudy, droll images shot at state fairs, such as “The Last Living Munchkin From the Wizard of Oz,’’ to Holly Lynton’s almost prayerful images of people working with animals (“Sienna, Turkey Madonna, Shutesbury, Massachusetts’’), the “Fresh Works’’ show of New England artists is consistently alluring with its focus, clarity, and tendency to provoke visceral reactions. Each artist has several large prints up.

Meg Birnbaum’s “Person/Persona’’ series features paired portraits of people and their alter egos, such as actress, singer, and puppeteer Charlotte Dore. In one image, she’s in an attic, all squashed down into an old beanbag chair under an array of marionettes, eyes mildly confronting the camera. In the other, she’s in a laundromat, dolled up like Betty Draper in a sunny frock and sporting a bouffant hairdo, gazing alertly to the side. The personae images are more clear and crisp than the humbler portraits; it’s a compelling juxtaposition.

Don’t miss the installations outside, near the Fairmont’s patio and the Harbor Walk. Margeaux Walter’s “In Service’’ is the perfect fit for the water taxi station there; it shows several versions of Walter, always in white, on a white bench, an everywoman commuter, always waiting.

The decision to bring the Flash Forward festival to Boston this year followed an invitation from Fairmont Battery Wharf’s general manager, Matthew Sterne, who saw the festival at the Fairmont in Toronto. Impressed, Sterne invited Camilleri to Boston.

When Camilleri visited in December, Sterne walked her through parts of the Fairmont hotel and residences that had yet to be developed. “This space was raw,’’ Camilleri said. “I said, ‘Perfect.’ ’’

Although by next year the space may be rented, Camilleri intends to bring the festival back, and make it an annual event at the Fairmont.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at


Fresh Works: A Sampler of New England Photographers

At: Fairmont Battery Wharf, 2 Battery Wharf, through June 11.