There’s still almost a month to go, a month in which to take a trip to the pretty little Breton town of La Gacilly, where the focus of this year’s international photography festival are the lands of the frozen north.
While green is always the festival’s prevalent colour – green issues affecting the world’s natural environment – this year it is shades of white which dominate the vast images and outdoor exhibitions on view throughout the town.
The philosophy of this 18 year-old event, which spreads its tentacles into unexpected corners throughout southern Brittany, is that culture is the common ground for all those who inhabit this earth; that the planet belongs to every human being; that it is precious and delicate and crying out to be cared for and nurtured by mankind.
Sadly, as many of these powerful photographs show, that is increasingly not the case.
Under the title, Plein Nord – North Facing – thousands of visitors will be confronted by disturbing, powerful images of disintegrating glaciers, rising tides, threatened wildlife, diminishing habitats and, most crucially, those often forgotten human communities who live cheek by jowl with environmental peril.
Expectations and clichéd attitudes are confronted around every corner. In his Swedish Memories collection, Sune Jonsson transports us to the remote Scandinavian region of Västerbotten, which is his native home. Far from the glossy, hi-tech sophistication of Stockholm and its surrounds, his lens captures, frankly but affectionately, the harshness of life in these frozen wastes, where communication is minimal and creature comforts in short supply.
Finnish photographer Tina Itkonen’s collection Between Sky and Ice concentrates on the lifestyle of the indigenous people of the Arctic, where she spent time among communities in Greenland during the 1990s. Using various modes of transport, she travelled to remote, lost villages lying at the end of a glacier, documenting the costumes, the customs, rituals and daily routines of these hardy, sometimes nomadic peoples.
Festival La Gacilly takes pride in its strong reputation for fearless photojournalism, but it is never afraid to mix fact with fantasy. This year Swedish photographer Eric Johansson plunges us deep into his quirky world vision through En Trompe l‘Oeil – Optical Illusion – a collection of witty, surreal scenarios in which all is far from the way it seems. A house perched perilously on a grassy clifftop, a railway line running through a house … They’re all about puzzles and illusions, amusing, teasing but distinctly unsettling.
Another Swede, Helena Blomqvist blends dreams and nightmare scenarios into a collection of gorgeous images of a fantastical, snowy world viewed from the fearful perspective of a sleepwalking child. Her cinematic patchwork of cameos at first appear like pages torn from an old book of much-loved a fairytales, before bizarre characters, neon-coloured blossoms, predatory creatures pop up and close in on the imagination, causing us to step back and look again – through our fingers.
The town of La Gacilly is a delight to visit at any time of the year. It’s a place where artists and craftsmen have set up studios and workshops, a place which is always open and welcoming to its many visitors. But it’s the photo festival which is its crowning glory. This year it runs until 31 October, questioning, probing, exposing and offering moments of pure wonder mixed with terror for the rapidly deteriorating state of our planet.
Festival Photo La Gacilly; festivalphoto-lagacilly.com @lagacillyphoto #lagacillyphoto