Africa, Baden and Honorary Fellows

06 July 2018

Region: Headquarters

 

If you find yourself in Austria this summer, it’s well worth taking a trip to Baden-bei-Wien, and not just for ‘taking the waters’.  This year, Baden is hosting the premiere of La Gacilly Photo Festival, a truly spectacular visual feast.  

We are all so inured to looking at images the size of postage stamps on our phones, that it is a real treat to walk around a corner and see Paras Chandaria’s enormous lion grazing on the plains against a backdrop of Nairobi – an image the size of the side of the building it adorns.  From an ordinary carpark, enlivened by Baudouin Mouanda’s larger than life images of the Brazzaville sapeurs, to the exquisite architecture of an Orangerie providing the perfect setting for Aïda Muluneh’s strikingly bold self-portraits, there is something pleasantly surreal about the town’s transformation into a gallery.  

Background image by Baudouin Mouanda

Now in its 14th year, the festival (founded by Jacques Rocher) brings together ‘nature, beauty and photography’ combining both photo-journalism and photography as art.  The festival’s aim is to encourage the viewer to consider the future of the planet through the relationship between man and the environment, particularly how we strive to deal with ‘nature and our coexistence’. 

This year’s theme is ‘I love Africa’.  The skilful curation of Florence Drouhet and Cyril Drouhet brings together the work of sixteen African artists with that of sixteen other photographers (including Society Honorary Fellows Elliott Erwitt and Tim Flach) who were invited to respond to one of the attendant themes.  Both Erwitt and Flach offer outstanding – albeit very different – interpretations of ‘the relationship between Man and Beast’.  

Flach’s animals are playfully displayed on giant boards across the lake (main image). Sadly, the boat-hire was closed when I visited, but I can imagine what fun it would be to pootle around his giant panda, white tiger or the “flying mop”.  

At the other side of the park, visitors can enjoy ’50 years of canine life’ through Erwitt’s iconic images from around the globe.  It is a testament to the curation that a 1940s Elliott Hollywood portrait can fit well with images from a place so far removed from California - geographically, socially and economically.

There is an immense variety of work amongst the displays, and together, they combine to give the visitor a real sense of the elements that combine to make what Africa what it is.  The fun portraits from Fatoumata Diabaté’s portable studio, Pascal Maitre’s photo-journalism, Nyani Quarmyne’s documentary series are just a few examples of how the curators have achieved their objective of dispelling Western myths that Africa can only be represented photographically as  ‘a continent of misfortune, of civil wars, famines and malnutrition’ or idealised through a coffee table book.  They succeed in showing us a different African reality, ‘a lucid picture of their people’s destiny.’  

I’ve always been a fan of bold colours, so it was inevitable that I would gravitate towards the displays from Aïda MulunehBaudouin Mouanda,Girma Berta and Omar Victor Diop.  The sheer size of the images was awe-inspiring, the colours were so much more vibrant than we could ever glean from a book, giving some of the images a cinematic quality – perhaps Hollywood and Addis Ababa aren’t so far apart after all. 

Display from Aida Muluneh

The seamless African experience was enhanced by the bright sunshine and the temperature creeping into the thirties.  Perhaps the only disappointment was the absence of anywhere serving African cuisine.  Having immersed myself in all things African, a spot of barbecued springbok with plantain on the side would have been welcome.  Nonetheless, the café in the park offers lakeside tables, from where you can admire Tim Flach’s bats whilst eating Flammkuchen washed down with some fine Austrian beer.

And if you can’t make it to Baden before the 30thSeptember, why not buy the catalogue? It is a work of art in itself.  

All citations from exhibition catalogue, available from the festival shop.

Text and Images © Del Barrett ARPS