Preview: Look11

Stephen Snoddy, artistic director of Liverpool’s international photography festival, tells Richard Smirke why Look11 is so important

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Whatever your political allegiance, it’s fair to say that the first year of coalition rule has been a somewhat tumultuous affair characterised by political and social unrest. The internet and, in particular, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have played a key role in catalysing the protest movement, but it is the older medium of photography which has ultimately provided us with some of the most powerful and resonant images of the past twelve months. Perfect timing then for the arrival of Look11, an international photography festival with a strong social and political bent, which this year takes place in and around Liverpool city centre.

“Photography is not just about taking beautiful pictures of sunsets,” says Stephen Snoddy, artistic director of Look11. “As we know through the newspapers and television, there are photographers out there who have a powerful message and that message can be social, political or economic.”

Born out of the Manchester-held Look07, this year’s revived and expanded photography symposium presents a wealth of contemporary documentary and artistic imagery, including works from revered snappers Simon Barber, Lee Stow, Jyll Bradley, Anita Smith, Tom Fairclough, Paul Trevor and Montreal-born Robert Polidori, who contributes some stunning images of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Participating galleries range from the traditional (Tate Liverpool, the Bluecoat, Open Eye Gallery) to the alternative (the Monroe gastropub, Saint George’s Hall), while Snoddy estimates the total number of individual works on display to be over 1,000. It is, in short, a major undertaking that aims to promote and acknowledge photography’s lasting relevance as both an artform and a tool for social justice. The decision to include a selection of archive photography, such as Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring series looking at DHSS job centres in the mid-1980s, provides an additional parallel to current events, explains the artistic director, who says “photography, like a lot of things in life, is often cyclical”.

“I think that the festival is well placed to express what’s happening in the financial, social and political times that we’re about to move into and I think that’s incredibly important,” he continues, citing the Paul Trevor retrospective at the Walker Art Gallery and a group display at Liverpool Design Academy documenting life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles as just two of the exhibitions that he is most looking forward to viewing. Collateral Damage, a Contemporary Urban Centre-staged group show curated by Paul Lowe and Harry Hardie, focusing on the recent Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, is also sure to be a visceral viewing experience – lent an extra poignancy following the recent death in Libya of photojournalist Tim Hetherington, formerly of The Big Issue, whose work is included in the exhibition. Ciara Leeming, a current regular contributor to The Big Issue in the North, is also featured.

The all-important aspect of audience interactivity is, meanwhile, catered for via the Capture Liverpool competition, which invites members of the public to pick up a camera and photograph the city for themselves.

“We want the festival to be open and accessible to everybody,” says Snoddy.

“There are some photography festivals which only really cater towards the professional. I don’t have a problem with that. But what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we include all those people who like to take photographs with their mobile phone and incorporate them into the festival. As well as try and get the message over that photography is incredibly important, making images is incredibly important and that it actually can change people’s lives.”

Look11 takes place on 13 May-26 June at various venues in Liverpool.

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