The first of its kind in Malta, the Valletta Photography Festival is set to break new ground in bringing the arts to the forefront of local consciousness. Rachel Agius speaks to curator Patrick Fenech to find out how.

The lack of formal education in the field of photography is what artist and photographer Patrick Fenech hopes to address in the Valletta Photography Festival opening on Friday.

The festival’s main aim is to introduce students to the medium, its appreciation and technical execution.

“I guess it was time to take stock of what’s happening in Malta in terms of contemporary and fine art photography,” says Fenech.

Privately-run organisations do offer tuition in the field but state schools and the University do not, making the art somewhat inaccessible.

The lack of galleries, research centres and libraries dedicated to the arts are another reason the public’s awareness is considerably lacking.

While opportunities for exhibition are few and far between, it is through no lack of talent and Fenech feels there is plenty of that in the local art scene.

“It’s just that good seeds need fertile ground to germinate,” he explains. Having no access to an audience can be a deterrent for those new to the medium, making motivation difficult and the rewards appear unattainable.

The Valletta Photography Festival aims to offer the 10 chosen artists the chance to reach a wide range of people and, in turn, give those people a chance to get up close and personal with the style and technique of a good photograph.

The pieces come from the portfolios of several photographers; some familiar, others not. So what connects them?

“They simply create interesting photographs,” Fenech says. Some of the exhibiting artists may not have the experience but they certainly have a voice of their own.

“What I was looking for in their portfolios was innovative work; work with a creative flair and above all intellectual content,” he says.

“Sometimes, some would hesitate to show me photographs they considered second rate, simply because they were taken without any regard to technique but which were equally valid because of a good idea, great content and ­meaning.”

With a little direction from Fenech, some raw images went on to become better developed and stronger conceptually, helping them reflect the ethos of the exhibitions more closely. Constructive criticism and encouragement go a long way in an artist’s development.

With the capital city as a backdrop, Fenech feels the venues add another element to the festival.

“People can access the various exhibitions on foot and enjoy the splendours of our capital city at one and the same time,” says Fenech. In a way, he says, the baroque glamour of Valletta helps the images stand out more.

Festivals in the rest of Europe often take place in their capital cities so it was a natural choice for the exhibitions, taking place in locations ranging from an auberge to a restaurant, to be focused around the old narrow streets, so laden with stories and character.

There is one further motive for the choice of location... Valletta is due to be the European Capital for Culture in 2018, giving the art scene plenty of time to gear up.

“We have now set the platform and hope the photography festival will grow into an international event so established photographers worldwide can show their work alongside local talent in Valletta,” says Fenech.

With a selection of artists, styles and themes, the Valletta Photography Festival is sure to entice experienced aficionados and those just introduced to the art of the image and promises to be enlightening and inspiring in equal measure.

The Valletta Photography Festival will run from Friday to May 31. Read more about the exhibition and see the artists’ works in today’s Sunday Circle magazine.

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