Deep In Thought

Published: 10 May 2017

Remote Photo is a photography festival that will take place on 12-13 May mostly in Co. Donegal on the North western periphery of Ireland and Europe, but also in Derry. The festival was established in 2015 with the idea of encouraging the photographic community to come together in a unique location, away from the usual distractions of large urban areas: “We thought that it would be nice to bring people into a smaller community, where they are more connected and can interact more”, tells me Paul McGuckin.

Paul is one of the organisers who co-founded the festival: “There are many photography festivals happening in cities”, explains Paul, “we wanted to do things differently”. Making reference to his personal experience, Paul went on to say that many photographers study and work in cities for a while. However, if they ever decide to move to a rural area, they can feel isolated: “It can be hard to travel to cities. You really have to make an effort”.

Cities can offer many different experiences but taking the time to travel to a remote area can facilitate an immersive experience. This point emerges quite clearly when Paul argues that “if we have something here [in Donegal] where people can come to, then they’ll take their time. They’ll be here to be open and more involved”.

Aside from the photography community, the festival attracts the local community as well as tourists from outside the county. Tourists often visit Donegal for the breath-taking scenery, surfing and other sports, its culture and heritage. Photo Remote wants to provide an additional gateway to Donegal’s vibrant culture.

Donegal has recently been named as “a real sweet spot – off-radar and hard to access, but on the cusp of a breakthrough” by Pat Riddell, editor of National Geographic Traveller. The organisers of Photo Remote would like to tap into the idea of a ‘destination festival’, as Paul explains: “People go to a city festival and maybe they go around the exhibitions, and maybe they go and see some of the city. We want to bring them here for the community, the exhibitions, the talks … they need to see why we are here, why there are so many artists that come and live here; especially why there so many photographers have travelled here over the years to make work”.

Selling Donegal as a wild Atlantic place (it is indeed the northernmost county of the Wild Atlantic Way ) is a growing objective of Photo Remote as a festival. But the link between photography and remoteness is what the festival wants to keep exploring. ‘Remote’ can qualify geographic places but also a state of mind: “Someone who lives in a city can be the loneliest person in the world”, says Paul. “We are looking for this slow, in-depth, analytical kind of style”, he adds.

A number of notable photographers will be showcased at Remote Photo this year. Kurt Tong’s The Queen, The Chairman and I will be displayed at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny.  As part of the ongoing collaboration between the festival and Ulster University, the work of 15 students of the School of Photography will be showcased in the same venue. Jill Todd Award runner up will join the festival for a talk on her work, and Jill Todd Award Winner Mads Holm will be at Nerve Visual in Derry to give a talk on his work. This venue will host the Jill Todd Photographic Award until May 2017.

Remote Photo also includes a number of interesting workshops aimed at photographers. For example, the full-day Photography Workshop with Gareth McCormack starts in the morning out on location and finishes up in the LYIT lab, processing images.

For the most competitive, the festival includes 2 competitions targeting both professionals and amateurs from all over the world. It is no longer possible to submit work under the schemes, but the shortlisted work will be exhibited during the festival.  As Paul stressed, this will be “a great opportunity [for the selected candidates] to get their work seen by important people” including Anne McNeill (Impressions), Matt Black (Magnum), Malcolm Dickson (Street Level), Trish Lambe (Gallery of Photography) and Peggy Sue Amison (East Wing), aka the judging panel.

Remote Photo is a growing festival: “We are already thinking ahead to ‘around the border’ as a theme for next year – the border here and everywhere”.  Developing a sustainable business model is another important goal of the festival. In addition, the organisers are keen to connect with artists and organisations from all over the world: “We want to get artists here but also send them out there”, Paul states. “You never know, when someone sees what’s going on in another area … that is something that they connect to or can work with”.


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