Photos finish first

Photography festival frames local talent

10/17/2012 10:00 PM

Phil Morehart
Contributing Reporter

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Chicago celebrates images this month.

The Chicago International Film Festival is the city’s big draw, at present, with 150 films from around the world being unveiled. Prominent actors and filmmakers are making appearances. The cumulative effect is empowering, giving Chicago a measure of Hollywood/Cannes/Sundance clout and glow for a spell.

Another festival devoted to the power of images deserves attention, however. Though smaller in stature and divergent in scope and emphasis, it rests easily alongside the cinema behemoth in its value to Chicago’s artistic and educational communities and cultural growth.

Running through Oct. 21, the Filter Photo Festival is Chicago’s only photography festival. This fact is surprising considering the city’s size and place within the history of the photographic arts. Chicago’s long-battled perception as being merely a breeding ground for artists who eventually find success on the east or west coasts could be to blame for this lack of recognition. The isolated nature of photography specializations — fine art, commercial, photojournalism, documentary — could be another.

Filter recognizes these deficits and divisions and hopes to remedy them.

“Chicago has this reputation for being only an incubator of talent,” says Filter’s director of programming, Erin Hoyt. “It’s not true!”

“I feel like we have a lot of pockets of talent. We’re trying to bring them together.”

The Filter Photo Festival bridges these gaps and elevates the city’s standing in the national photography scene by offering programming which appeals to both photographers and photography lovers alike.

Education is key to Filter’s mission.

“We’re a festival run by photographers, for photographers,” explains Hoyt.

This mindset infects the programming, steering it towards events and activities that can build and further careers, as opposed to those based on competition and status.

Burgeoning and professional fine art and documentary photographers (the festival is not open to commercial photographers) can have their portfolios reviewed by industry professionals ranging from gallery curators to newspaper photo editors in face-to-face critiques.

Workshops dive into digital workflow, photo editing, gallery presentation, creative strategies and book publication. Lectures and panel discussions explore residences, new media usage, personal stories and more.

This is not an exclusive festival, though.

Filter’s events are open to all. The accessibility furthers the educational mission. By breaking down the walls between novice and professional and artist and patron, a fuller appreciation of all aspects of the photographic medium is achieved.

Of course, casual attendees might not be fully invested in the intricacies of the wet plate collodion process. Luckily, Filter offers a portfolio walk, a photo book fair, exhibitions and other events with broader appeal throughout the downtown area. The work of eight Chicago-area photographers will be on display at satellite venues across the city during the festival, as well.

Minimal costs to the public (most events are free), a headquarters move from Lakeview to downtown and an embrace by Chicago’s photography community has allowed Filter to grow leaps since its inception four years ago, both in terms of attendance and credibility. Future growth is anticipated.

“We’re starting to get international recognition,” Hoyt notes. “We have so much to offer. You can go to this festival every day and not pay a cent.”

“This couldn’t happen anywhere else but Chicago.”

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