Interview // Brittonie Fletcher on the ACTINIC Festival

Alternative Photography Scotland (APS) staged its first festival this year. As part of the IPS Season of Photography 2015 and UNESCO World Heritage Year of Light, ACTINIC presented an exciting mix of photographic artists, each using analogue processes to develop a highly individual language for making sense of the world – whether by crafting visual metaphors of it or by documenting it.

SSHoP is featuring photo-essays by a selection of the artists included in ACTINIC: Takashi Arai, whose daguerreotypes, shown at Stills, record his encounters with the survivors, and surviving landscapes, of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident; S. Gayle Stevens’ wet collodion prints depicting dead bees and flower heads in stark silhouette; Anne Campbell’s Scottish landscapes, often lith prints with mordançage, built up over days of developing and redeveloping; and Scarlett Platel’s vividly colourful works, that draw on spiritual and psychoanalytic thought.

ACTINIC Festival’s rich offering was brought to Scotland by APS founder Brittonie Fletcher. Brittonie, who recently moved to Scotland, is a photographer with a background in other arts, whose work ranges from 35mm to large format. Often combining hand applied chemistry and digital process, she often favours ‘failed’ materials like broken lenses or expired film. Brittonie exhibits and publishes internationally in addition to providing photography tutorials at Stills, Edinburgh; Streetlevel, Glasgow; and various London darkrooms.

SSHoP asked Brittonie about the impetus behind APS, the genesis of Actinic Festival and her hopes for its future.

Can you tell us why you settled in Scotland?

I wouldn’t say I’m “settled”, but I’m here for the time being. I moved here in 2010 to complete my MFA. After finishing my degree I had enough projects, ideas and opportunities overlapping here to make me want to stick around, besides I haven’t visited the Highlands and Islands yet! I went for an MFA as it is a required qualification in the States for teaching higher education. Once I finished I was still looking for teaching experience, and happily found myself with a class at Stills Centre for Photography (which I adore); things have snowballed from there.

Can you tell us first how APS began

APS happened due to a number of things falling into place. When I moved to Scotland I saw a lot of opportunity for people working in alternative and historic processes – one of my main areas of expertise. Initially, I was having a hard time finding chemistry and places to make the work – at the time, my university did not have the health and safety information in place. I was on a mission, though, and ended up supplying our photography technician with some documents containing a lot of the information needed to get the facilities and permissions up and running – which, I’m happy to say, it now is!

I think a lot about material when making – this stems from a freshman course I took in sculpture, which has bled into the way I think about making photographs, in terms of printing and presenting them. I ended up going to the length of building a darkroom in the basement of the bar I was working in! I made collodion portraits of people within the folk pub culture.

While I was (and still am) very grateful for that experience and opportunity- which I may not have pursued if I hadn’t needed to be creative with where I might actually make art – I still felt it would be great if more people had access to the rewarding and exciting realm of chemical photography: I’m very stubborn and like a challenge (and if it sounds complicated and dangerous, then I’m in!) but not everyone is like that. I’m a firm believer in education, community and access, the more I can do to help further those things, the happier I am!

I know that there is already a wide range of people working in a lot of photographic methods across Scotland/the UK, but I really wanted to try and connect with people more – provide a platform for people who are working in these technical and at times difficult processes to communicate and share knowledge with each other; also to share with those who aren’t currently doing it, but might be interested for one reason or another.

Why did you create ACTINIC Festival

ACTINIC Festival was created in the wake of the Alt-Photo Festival 2013 – which was organised by Kenny Bean, who had previously held a pinhole festival in 2012. For a number of reasons, there was no festival in 2014, and I was devastated – there wasn’t anything like it happening in Scotland and there was so much potential.

In 2013, Edinburgh College of Art was involved as well, and held a symposium which was really exciting! After a year of nothing happening, I decided to take action. Initially I struggled to reach Kenny via email, but felt strongly an Alternative Photography Festival should happen. I decided to extend the remit of the festival to include works which featured any analogue photographic elements in some part of the production – this way we could include more artists. I contacted the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh first, as they have a history of supporting photography exhibitions and have an amazing archive of historic photography.

After RBGE agreed to be involved, I pitched the idea to Edinburgh Printmakers through their marketing manager Vilma Kirvelaite. From my perspective there is a major intersection with printmaking and photography which is sometimes neglected – and in this post-postmodern art world, where media intersects, we need to reconnect. Vilma loved the idea and discussed it with their gallery and studio co-ordinators; we excitedly agreed to give it a go.

At this point I spoke to people at Stills – I teach there, so I didn’t want to propose it right off the bat as a vague idea, but as something concrete – which they could get involved with. It was helpful that I already knew who I wanted to exhibit there – Takashi Arai, who I’ve known for just over 6 years and very much admire his work.

Sheila Masson (a friend who was introduced to me a couple years ago by Alex Boyd, more on whom later) was putting together her Victorian Britain and the Tin Type Photograph exhibition; I thought it fit well with what we were wanting to do and asked if she wanted to get involved in the festival. She did, which was great! She’s got a fantastic collection and a wealth of knowledge (as well as being a great photographer). I’d also been speaking to Summerhall about exhibition potentials for a while, as well as the Traverse, so once all these things fell into place it didn’t take much time before we had those excellent venues locked down.

We had an international call for art as a way to spread the word and bring in artists from further afield, especially new and emerging artists. We did have to charge a fee – we needed to help fund the project and hope to eliminate the need for fees in the future. In the end, we had almost 70 submissions! I think the judges had their hands full! It seemed the best way to get a solid and well rounded edit from such a diverse range of artists was to have 3 different judges: John McNaught from Highland Print Studio, Karen Harvey from Shutter Hub (who sponsored prizes for the juried call) and well-known photographer Alex Boyd.

Alex has been a major help from the beginning. We initially met when showing together at the RBGE Alt Photo Fest 13, and he’s offered a massive amount advice – from the conception of ACTINIC right through to the staging of the festival itself. Alex has introduced me to a number of artists and professionals working in the photography and has quietly been putting in a lot of behind the scenes help spreading the word and being hugely supportive.

What’s the ethos behind it?

ACTINIC Festival is here to connect people with photographic arts in a manner that reaches beyond commercial, facebook, or straightforward photography. Specifically, we want to promote the craft of analogue-related photographic processes. We wanted to remind people about art and photography – the potential to expand the artistic horizons of the media and to celebrate those who are pushing the envelope. We want to include as many people as possible in this mission and to help teach people more about it – from technical aspects to theory and criticism. Of course, a huge central aim is to help connect the communities of artists working in interesting ways. It’s really the ethos behind APS in general.

How is alternative photography currently developing in Scotland?

I think photography is going through a new renaissance where new genres or movements are coming together. There’s definitely a growing interest in tactile photographs, with emphasis on unique and hand applied process. I see photography, and our understanding of what the term encompasses, as an ever changing and expanding universe. I hope that alternative photography as a term doesn’t get stuck meaning hand-applied or historic process, as much as I love them. My thinking is that “alternative” means non-mainstream, and in my perspective, mainstream photography is straight and mainly digital. I think people are experimenting more, and that is always a good thing.

What does the future hold for APS and ACTINIC Festival?

The future is uncertain but positive! APS plans to continue with promoting alternative photography in Scotland as well as sharing things we find interesting outside of Scotland. We’ve been invited to represent at a couple upcoming festivals and exhibitions within the year, which is really exciting. We’d like to programme more activities and help other projects in any way we can, as well as working toward making tighter connections within the Scottish photography community. We’d really like to get involved in places outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow. As for ACTINIC Festival – we’ve had an amazing response and feedback this year and a lot of people asking about next year; so while nothing has been set in stone, the outlook is good!

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