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Unseen 2014

For the 2014 edition of Unseen, a major photography festival held in Amsterdam each year. I was assigned three writing tasks. Over the course of a few hours I had to research, write and edit the pieces ready to be uploaded to the Unseen site that evening. The three pieces

Invisible Borders

2014 marks the fifth Invisible Borders: the Trans-African Project whose aim is to use the language of art and photography to clarify misconceptions of borders and frontiers within the 54 African nations and beyond.

For many of us just the idea of being on the road in a bus for 150 or so days with a group of strangers may make us run the other way, but not this years team hailing from Eritrea, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Ten photographers, artists and writers comprising three women and seven men, will travel for 151 days from Lagos in Nigeria to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina in an effort to further question the idea of borders, in the process creating new work responding to notions of culture and discrimination.

It’s the first time the project has ventured to Europe. Participating artist Heba Amin outlined the key reason for taking the change of direction to Europe revolved around European ideas of borders, and how they shaped Africa without any understanding of African nations. It’s why this year the Invisible Borders bus is able to pull up at Unseen to share experiences and histories. It’s also conveniently timed to match with an exhibition at Prince Claus Fund Gallery celebrating the work of the artists involved so far.

But it is only day 110, meaning another 40 days of travel and challenge is still to come. Generally welcomed, but sometimes not, the team have had some odd adventures, including having to spend a surreal night in the no man’s land between two countries as they waited for visas to be processed. More visa issues meant some of the group could not enter Morocco, and so had to continue to Spain by plane.

To keep up-to-date with the project check out their website and app that tracks their travels.

Unseen Premieres

There’s nothing like something new to activate the senses, and so it is with Unseen’s new initiative to bring the very best of never before seen work by over sixty photographers into view at this year’s festival.

Experimentation is where it is at, be it in the way the image is considered, captured, printed, presented or disrupted, photographers are playing with the final image in surprising ways. Media is also up for grabs with artists making forays into video, painting, print media, sculpture and graphic design bringing new perspectives to photography. If the enthusiastic buzz in the halls today is anything to go by, the audience is suitably impressed.

Take disruption of the photographic image, a trend seen in Peter Lamb’s large-scale painting and photographic work. His working methods sample previous work, cutting and pasting both paint and photographs to create new viscous paintings that will in the future become other work, a sort of constant vortex of image distortion. Elsewhere artists are sewing into or drawing on, cutting and pasting, folding up, or in the case of Tom Butler, painting directly onto collected Victorian Cabinet cards. The pure photographic print is no longer sacrosanct.

A playful use of material features is clearly evident, be it through the inclusion of video, layering frames within frames or the use of sculptural form to extend the photograph into the gallery. Tom Lovelace makes use of tools, in this case a vice perhaps used to slow down our voracious appetite for images and the act of looking. Stuart Whipps is creating an edition of prints in the gallery using an early form of sign language developed in the 1650s. It provides a performative aspect giving a gentle nod to technology through the use of pre-pc audiovisual equipment to generate imagery, in this case text-based prints. The influence of technology is seen in Inka and Niclas’ work exploring meta-photography, yet there is no use of image-editing software. Images are carefully planned to capture what’s beyond the physical scene using materials that highlight presence and transience.

Others are working with capture. Be it in long exposure, adding materials to distort the image.

Image: Peter Lamb, Gold Army, 2013.

Firestarters Lab

Firestarters Lab is the one-stop shop to find out what’s hot in the world of mobile and wearable camera innovations. It’s fair to say the room was positively pulsating at kick-off time with an array of gadgets lined up ready for Unseen visitors to explore and play with. And technophobes need not fear, friendly guides are on hand to explain and enhance your experience.

iPhone owners will be pleased with a couple of intriguing inventions including The Impossible Project’s The Instant Lab, a made for iPhone retro styled housing that turns digitally captured photographs into analogue Polaroids. This meeting of digital and analogue gives tactile photographs evoking the medium. Sure the processing time is 35 minutes, but it’s well worth the wait marking another boundary pushing initiative from Impossible. The Poppy 3D turns the iPhone into a 3D shooter with a canny cardboard snap-on device giving images a new dimension. It’s sure to be a hit with animated gifs a breeze to make. You don’t need an iPhone with the Autograph, just a neck to hang the camera from as its goes about capturing moments in a shoot from the hip fashion automatically. Five sensors and clever algorithms ensure images look great, while its random manner gives unexpected and spontaneous images.

Interactivity is key in the lab. Pop on a 3D mask and earphones to see what the camera can’t. Unseen premiering artist Clare Langan has teamed up with coders Lavalab to transform one of her photographs into mind-bending experience. It certainly had the crowd rapt and talking. Meanwhile Thermobooth, a new take on the photo booth, takes photos when people simply kiss or touch popping out a thermal picture for you to take with you.

Photographs hashtagged Unseen make up Instaprint’s ever changing and engaging live feed keeping the vibe alive and the senses excited. Get clicking and tagging for your chance to be included an audience exhibition.

Creativity is popping at the Firestarters Lab, be sure to drop by and check out the workshop program and see the future for photography with Glass and MindRDR.

Do you have a writing project?