CHAPEL HILL - Most of us arent painters or sculptors. Only a tiny handful of people make pottery or create jewelry or weave fabric art.
But we are almost all, in one way or another, photographers. We snap photos of our families and our pets, take shots on vacations, record one holiday gathering after another. Rare is the baby whose wrinkled little face isnt immortalized on film (or, nowadays, in a digital file).
That ubiquity, which is more pervasive than ever now that our telephones and computers are also cameras, is one of the things that sets photography apart from most other forms of art.
And its just one of the many aspects of photography that the Frank Gallery will explore in a two-month, town-wide photography festival that opened last week.
The In Focus festival will feature exhibitions, tours, lectures, panel discussions, a photographic scavenger hunt and an outdoor public slide show.
Prominent photographers, collectors, curators, critics, educators and others will participate, representing institutions including the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the Weatherspoon Museum of Art in Greensboro; galleries such as Frank, the Ackland Museum Store, Through This Lens in Durham and the Jennifer Schwartz Gallery in Atlanta; and colleges and universities including UNC, Duke, N.C. State, UNC Greensboro and East Carolina.
Part of what we wanted to do with this is to bring a lot of people together, said photographer Barbara Tyroler, who organized the festival along with photographer Bryce Lankard. Theres a lot of photography here, but its very dispersed: You have the Center for Documentary Studies and the museums and galleries and the School of Public Health and Meredith and State and so on. I thought, wouldnt it be fun to pull all these things together?
It wasnt an idea out of the clear blue. Tyroler helped organize FotoWeek DC, a weeklong festival in Washington, D.C., several years ago, pulling together photographers, curators, galleries and institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. That festival has become a major annual event in the nations capital.
We had to drag some of them in kicking and screaming a little bit, because theres some competitiveness there, Tyroler said. But it was amazing. It still is.
She hopes to replicate that success here with In Focus. The festival, which takes the new group exhibition The Image in Flux at Frank as its primary jumping-off point, will explore a remarkable variety of aspects of photography.
A panel discussion today at the Framers Corner in Carrboro will explore issues of controversy and censorship. Other sessions during the festivals run will explore subjects including the rapidly evolving nature of photography in the digital age; the curatorial perspective; the means and meaning of modern collecting; new techniques such as cell phone photography; and the use of photography in storytelling and documentary.
There are so many elements to look at, Tyroler said. Photography can be used for aesthetic and artistic purposes. It can be used for educational purposes, to explore social ideas, to record personal history, to record cultural history.
Its a medium that raises all kinds of questions that we endlessly debate: What is photography? Its not just one thing. What is real? When you take a picture, are you capturing reality or are you creating something else?
Linda Dougherty, chief curator and curator of contemporary art at the North Carolina Museum of Art, will participate in a panel discussion about curatorial and archival perspectives, and will also lead a special tour of the NCMAs Julian T. Baker collection, The Discerning Eye. The collection features works by 16 of the 20th centurys most important photographers, including Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange and Diane Arbus.
The exhibition illustrates some of the many ways photographers interpret the medium, Doughtery said.
Some of the pieces are very candid; Diane Arbuss subjects, for example, didnt know they were being photographed, Dougherty said. Ralph Meatyards works are carefully staged. Aaron Siskinds photographs look like abstract patterns, but theyre actually old walls and buildings.
The In Focus festival will also feature an opportunity for members of the public to share their work. On Oct. 13, the festival will present a Mondo Public Slide Show in Wallace Plaza on top of the Wallace Parking Deck on East Rosemary Street. Everyone is invited to submit 15-20 digital images by email, CD or thumb drive.
Festival events will run through October; the last one, a panel discussion about documentary storytelling and social change, actually is set for Nov. 1.
Were hoping to bring it all off, Tyroler said. Things are a little nutty, but because weve done it before that makes it a little easier.
She hopes to make In Focus an annual event.
Thats what wed like to do, if we survive, she said. If were still feeling the love, well do it again.