Winnipeg is known for its festivals — Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg Folk Festival and Winnipeg International Writers Festival, just to name a few.
But don’t forget the Flash Photographic Festival, which runs the entire the month of October.
With 37 exhibitions in as many venues around the city and in Gimli and Elm Creek, there are a lot of businesses-turned-small art galleries to visit in October. One might ask why local artists and businesses would band together and participate in a festival that has been going four years strong.
Photographers Tacey Coggins, Whitney Light and Dmitry Kirshner are first-time festival participants. Of the three, Kirshner has the distinction of having his images appear in two exhibitions — one in a group show and the other in a solo exhibition.
All three are excited to share their work with the public and are ready to be inspired by the work of their peers.
Coggins is looking forward to seeing printed photographs in all the different locations. "We don’t print the way we used to. Everything is always digital," she says in an email interview. (All interviews were conducted via email).
Light echoed the sentiment. "I consume too much photography on a screen these days."
Kirshner hopes to introduce his work to more people and meet other photographers.
"I think these two things embody the very nature of this festival, which is trying to bring artists from different photographic genres and styles together and to give them an amplified outlet to share their vision with others in the city," he says.
What spurred these artists to participate for the first time?
"I wanted to use photographic art to help women to share their stories, or share messages of hope and inspiration," says Coggins. "I was inspired by documenting the women around me, who were doing things like organizing rallies, or using their voices in whatever way they could."
For Kirshner, who has been developing his fine art portfolio for the last couple of years, opportunity came in the form of friend, photographer Suzie Wong. "When (Suzie) suggested that I join her in an exhibit at the Flash Fest, I immediately said yes."
The venues are as varied as the photographers themselves.
Coggins’ work will be hanging in X-Cues Café & Lounge. In her words, her exhibit A Stand Up Woman "is a collection of photos inspired from Women’s marches, particularly with regards to health-care reform… I have not met a single person who is not concerned about these changes and budget cuts."
How Coggins and the business paired up was simple. "I saw a posting on Instagram that X-Cues was looking for a photographer to exhibit during the Flash photo fest, and when I met with (X-Cues) Cherise (Michell), it was the perfect match," she says. "The venue is community orientated, and very supportive of artists — which I love. You walk in and immediately feel welcome."
For Light, her chosen venue is Strong Badger Coffeehouse, a place she happens to enjoy visiting. "It was easy to convince (owner) Brock (Peters) to participate; he clearly supports local artistic production and he liked the proposal." Tentatively called Inland Seas, her exhibit is a collection of images from a project looking at Lake Winnipeg — how people use it and realizing the impact of that interaction.
In his first of two exhibits, Mix Tape Group Show, Kirshner teams up with Yvette Shang and Wong. "We called ourselves ‘Mix Tape’ because of the differences in our artistic styles," he says.
With his solo exhibit at Chew/The Store Next Door, Stopping Time consists of two distinct sets of images. "The first set explores the literal process of freezing time in a series of high-speed and macro images that dive into the intricate details of what is invisible to the naked eye," he states. "The second set is a series of landscape photographs where the viewer feels how slow time is, not in a physical sense, but more as an emotional response to the calm of nature surrounding us."
Having known owners/chefs Kyle and Kristen Lew for a number of years, Kirshner’s venue choice was easy. The way they cultivate a sense of community at the restaurant has always appealed to him. It required no convincing to bring them on board to participate as a venue.
"In fact, they gave me complete creative freedom to utilize any wall in the restaurant — I hope they will love the end result as I tried to be both daring in choosing my images while being respectful to the flow of their place," he says.
Kirshner credits the choice of Tara Davis Boutique for the Mix Tape exhibit to Wong, who also organized the exhibit for the group. He had nothing but complimentary things to say about Davis. "She is a true professional who appreciates art and sees promoting local artists as a part of her contribution to the vibrancy of our city."
Davis is a festival veteran as she goes into her third year hosting an exhibit at her shop.
"(Festival founder Leif Norman) approached me to see if my shop would like to be a venue for Flash Photographic Festival and it sounded like a lot of fun," she explains. "We have a rotating gallery at the shop so it just made sense to host a photography exhibition for the month of October."
Along with the veterans, there are the newbies. Two such newcomers are the Millennium Library and craft brewery Little Brown Jug. Both venues anticipate meeting new faces and higher foot traffic from their participation.
The library’s Blankstein Gallery will feature Gabriela Aguero’s UprooTED. "We look forward to having our customers take a moment to browse the photographic works and enjoy their artistry and message," says Kailey Barron, communications officer for the City of Winnipeg.
A proud supporter of the Exchange District, Little Brown Jug founder Kevin Selch is looking forward to reacquainting Winnipeggers with the area.
"We like to use the venue to host unique cultural and community events that bring together a cross-section of different Winnipeggers. We like the idea of shared space, that it can be configured for different purposes, and that it is designed to break down barriers between people that leads to unexpected meetings and new experiences."
Little Brown Jug will feature Brent Lelond’s Plates, a salute to people who serve the public in different ways.
The festival is the brainchild of Winnipeg photographer Leif Norman. He, along with a small group of fellow professional photographers have put together a festival filled with diverse visual artists for the public to view and explore.
Norman, along with festival communications director, Rebecca Schroeder, agreed to a Q&A regarding the festival.
FP: What inspired you to create the festival? How long did it take for the festival to come to fruition in 2014?
Leif Norman: I had been thinking about making a festival like this since about 2012 and went around talking to local photographers, bouncing ideas off them. I felt that Winnipeg had every other type of festival and was a real festival city and should have a photographic-based one.
I even went to Toronto in May of 2014 to check out their Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and get some ideas. After a few years of thinking about the format, I went ahead and made it happen that year almost entirely by myself.
I built the website, designed the posters, gathered the support of sponsors like the WAG and Doowah Design and it all went very well! Since then, I have much more help and would probably have lost all my hair if it wasn’t for them.
FP: From its start four years ago, in what ways has the festival grown? This year, the towns of Gimli and Elm Creek are involved. Perhaps Brandon is not far behind?
Rebecca Schroeder: The festival has grown in terms of the number of artists and venues involved, has moved beyond the borders of the city, and has a small staff of eager volunteers (all professional photographers) that make the festival happen.
We have four people on the Flash Team: Leif Norman (executive director), Coralee Penner (creative director), Matt Duboff (social media and web) and Rebecca Schroeder (communications).
Our programming has increased so that this October we have events (social and educational) almost every day of the month.
We’d love to expand into Brandon and beyond. It would be fantastic to have northern involvement, though logistically this will present new challenges for the Flash team.
FP: The festival’s mission is to promote the art of photography by bringing together photographers and businesses in Winnipeg and around Manitoba. To get people out and about, to see art and visit places they may have never been.
Building and creating community is very much in the forefront and one can see that in your partnership with Winnipeg Harvest and the intent of developing education initiatives with academic educators. How important are those partnerships (which also include the sponsors) in growing the festival and securing its future?
RS: Building relationships between artists and businesses is great, we can only see it improving the quality of life in our communities. We like how excited businesses are getting, and we’ve seen the support for our festival grow!
We’d be happy to talk about the possibility of educational initiatives, especially with kids.
We also think that it’s important to give back, and Winnipeg Harvest seemed like a great place to start last year. We’re happy to have the donations we take in at the Dodge + Burn Lectures go to support Harvest.
The only way our festival grows is through community involvement. So our partnerships with businesses, non-profits and hopefully soon, academic educators are absolutely necessary.
FP: With regards to developing educational initiatives, has the door already been opened to discuss and develop programs introducing students and young children to photography and its rich history?
RS: So far we don’t have any kids programming. Hey, ArtCity… maybe we should talk.
FP: Aside from the exhibits, what are some of the other events planned for the month-long festival?
RS: Lectures, photo-walks, a pub crawl, Polaroid party, and we kick it all off with huge projected portraits at Nuit Blanche! (Sept. 30). All of our programming can be found on the website.
FP: With this year’s lineup finalized, do you get a visual taste of what the participants will be exhibiting before they go up on the walls?
RS: We do get a bit of a taste as all exhibits must provide three samples of the work being shown so that we can include it in the printed festival program.
Programs will be available at official FLASH venues around the city, and at a few strategic places throughout downtown. Watch our Instagram @flashphotofest for details.
FP: Let’s have some fun and look into the future. Where do you or where would you like to see the festival in its 10th, 15th and 20th year?
RS: We’d like to see venues all over the province, including Churchill. Last year we had an international artist (from Iceland), which has come out of the relationships being developed between creatives here and in Iceland.
There is a venue dedicated to the #wpg2isl group that was just in Iceland at the beginning of September.
It would be fantastic to continue to grow that connection and have more national and international involvement.