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Diffusions Photography Festival – Looking for America - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Nathan Munday

NWR Issue 109

Diffusions Photography Festival – Looking for America

'Woman at Coit Tower, San Fransisco, 1964’, by Arthur Tress






EE Cummings wrote that ‘America is always on the move’ and so is Google Earth’s strange little van that seems to be following me around Cardiff; it has passed me twice this year already! One of those times was whilst I was walking around the city for New Welsh Review. What did it see? Probably a spectrally fuzzed-out face on top of a pilgrim-like student, map in hand, looking for the red signs that show the location of nineteen galleries that make up Diffusion, Cardiff’s biennial month-long festival of photography. The theme this year is ‘Looking for America’.

The photographs live in the most random pieces of building. An old Shaws shop, a fading National Express ticket office, the Norwegian Church, the Millennium Centre and many other spaces form quasi-pilgrimage sites which are both physical and virtual spaces. The festival includes screenings, performances and other events that surround this framed menagerie of still and moving life. You could even go looking for Diffusion vending machines which dispense limited edition miniature artwork!

Going from gallery to gallery, I was made to look at Cardiff again. The whole city seemed to pass outside the window frames; its urban scenes fused with the photographs. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell the difference. The rest of this blog focusses on one afternoon I spent re-discovering Cardiff whilst looking for America (or the galleries anyway).

It started along Wood Street. I never usually go there unless I’m catching a train home. Matt Wilson’s ‘Stateside’ had a filmic quality which, along with the Stadium Plaza galleries, took me back to my own road-trip around Arizona five years ago. In ‘Moving Forward, Looking Back’, I listened to the voices that accompany the faces thanks to the headphones provided. My imagination was robbed but their stories were fascinating. The noisy escalators also injected the gallery with life.

I laughed in ‘extra{ordinary}’. The pictures were funny and random, emphasising the importance of humour in everyday life. In ‘Higher Ground’, a video showed a family turning their suburban Texan home into a rocket ship. I could see the power of imagination dwelling alongside the futile ‘American experience’. Outside, the new Central Square was being built whilst a row of two or three homeless people were watching the cranes.

In Penarth’s ‘And Now It’s Dark’, Brouws, Hildo and Steacy have photographed the night. They present a troubling topography where flickering signs advertise Adult stores alongside Mobil fuel stations. The frames are manifestations of a nation bowing to that neon god they made; he is best seen at night after all. ‘San Francisco ’64’’s black and white photos took me back to a time when black and white coupled as the words of the year. These photographs haunted me, especially with the dominating presence of sunglasses forming uncanny, Sandman-like eyes.

I did not manage to see all nineteen galleries. Instead I bought a book which completed the journey. One gallery I want to see is ‘Patagonia’ in the Norwegian Church. A certain photo (in the book) is drawing me there; it is a picture of a hearth. The Hispanic-looking boy and his grandfather eerily mirror my own upbringing. It illustrates that so many of the photographs could have been taken in either Wales or America; this is the whole point of an exhibition like Roger Tiley’s ‘Appalachian Coal Camps’.

As I left my tenth gallery, a homeless man asked me what music I was listening to. He told me that he was the nephew of a famous Welsh sculptor and he was thrilled that I’d actually heard about him. He too had been an artist once and his story was such a sad one.

The good thing about this festival is that it creates a ‘kaleidoscopic view’ of the contemporary. It does not fuzz-out those faces like Google Earth; instead, it reveals those faces that are so rarely looked at.

Nathan Llywelyn Munday is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University






       


previous blog: ‘“The Secret Workings of Nature”: Robert Hooke and Early Science’, National Library of Wales
next blog: Not About Heroes



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