These days, if you have a smartphone and an Instagram filter ready to go (not to mention a willingness to look like an idiot contorting your body to get the “perfect angle” for the “perfect shot”), you are a photographer. However, not to burst the bubble of your Instagram following, there are still real photographers out there. You know, the kind that understands aperture, has more than one lens, and edits using something like Lightroom – which last time I checked is really lacking when it comes to perpetua and idwig filters. And while I will be the first to admit that even I am not immune to slapping an Instagram filter on a selfie and thinking that I’m the next undiscovered Anne Leibovitz…I can also admit that then, when I see a real photographers work, I’m blown away by their ability to make a picture look good without out-of-place sepia tones and purposeful graininess.
Long story short: I love photography. Whether it is capturing buildings, people, or just life’s randomness, I love seeing life through other people’s lenses. As fate would have it, I’m not alone. In fact, there is a movement right here in DC dedicated to keeping photography, in its purest and most beautiful form, alive , well, and accessible to the public. The movement comes in the form of a non-profit, called “FotoDC.” Summed up on their website is their overarching mission:
“FotoDC’s mission is to provide exposure for photographers and to make diverse, high-quality photography accessible to audiences through the exhibition of inspiring and provocative images, dynamic programming, and collaborations with the local and international community.”
FotoDC originally began as FotoWeekDC in 2008, acting as a weeklong photography festival. Right from the start, it drew the interest of crowds, attracting a mass of 20,000 participants that included every level, from amateur to professional. While FotoWeekDC is still a thing (the last one took place in November), FotoDC has evolved into much more than a week-long venture.
In 2011, FotoDC became a nonprofit, dedicated to their year-round mission of providing greater exposure for all photographers through finding new venues for exhibitions and seeking out new programs for students and youth. FotoWeek’s events keep evolving. Here is a sampling of what was included at this year’s festival:
ICE-DCE Open Photo Competition
This competition opened up the old Franklin School building before history was altered and it began its transformation into a new museum, the Institute for Contemporary Expression. The challenge invited participants to tour the building for an hour, using the time to take pictures of Adolf Cluss’ noteworthy architecture. From there, participants shared their photos and were judged by a panel.
While founder Theodore Adamstein originally created FotoWeek in hopes of exposing local artists, its reach (and potential) has grown much faster and gone much further than he could have ever foreseen. Now FotoDC is open internationally, to anyone who wants to (and can monetarily afford to) participate. Talking to The Washington Post about the difference between where the company was at its beginning and where it is now, Adamstein says:
“I think we’ve matured. I think we’ve become more focused, and I think if you were to have asked me in the very beginning, ‘What is this festival about?’ I would have said, ‘It’s a celebration of photography,’ and I think it still is, but what has become very clear is that we’re all about exposure for photographers – from emerging to established, regional, local, national, international, all the way down to kids.”
That being said, the company has not forgotten its roots or lost its local flair. Their website features winners of locally-inspired photography contents such as “Places of DC” and “Faces of DC.” Other categories they have featured (both pertaining specifically to DC and not) include: Youth, Cherry Blossom, Spirit of Funk, Spirit of DC, Fine Art, Photographer’s Choice, and Photojournalism.
Nicole Aguirre, a photographer and long-time participant of Fotoweek, also commented on the growth to The Washington Post:
“I think it’s extremely important for [FotoWeek] to keep its local authenticity. Part of what makes it so interesting is that it is in DC, and this is an important city. The fact that it is here and started here, for that to continue to be promoted, is important to lift up the creative community in DC. The global aspect should be promoted too – it brings people here, and it gives people a different perspective of what’s in DC I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. I think it should grow in both directions.”
I think that is the right attitude. After all why shouldn’t we encourage (and jump up and down with joy) when something that started right here in DC branches out to have a greater impact? I may not be entering my selfies in FotoWeek’s competitions anytime soon, but I will certainly be following along…