Looking for America – Diffusion: Cardiff International Festival of Photography returns

  • © Serge Clément
    © Serge Clément
  • The nightlife in Cardiff, UK © Maciej Dakowicz
    The nightlife in Cardiff, UK © Maciej Dakowicz
  • G.B. WALES. Cardiff. Christmas shopping central Cardiff. 2004 © David Hurn
    G.B. WALES. Cardiff. Christmas shopping central Cardiff. 2004 © David Hurn
  • Sisyphus, from Household © Hillerbrand and Magsamen
    Sisyphus, from Household © Hillerbrand and Magsamen

Diffusion, Cardiff's premier photography festival is back for its second edition, and this year is looking to America for inspiration
Diffusion, the international photography biennale organised by Cardiff’s Ffotogallery is currently in full swing, hosting group shows, talks and photography-related events around the city for the entire month of October.

The theme, Looking for America, was announced back in May 2013, on the last day of the previous edition. Despite the continuous barrage of American imagery, David Drake (director of Ffotogallery and curator of the festival) says that the theme is as pertinent as ever. 

“I was interested in the strange paradox that from outside of America there was still an allure around Americana and a lot of the things that become representative of the American Dream. But within America there was a sense of corrosion, that everything had gone wrong. 

The inside perspective on America was quite dark and dystopian whereas from a European perspective America was still the promised land, a land of opportunity. I thought that we could have quite a lot of fun exploring those notions through the festival.”

The festival spans several sites around the city, in an effort to engage both serious photography lovers and a broader audience. The empty storefronts on Wood Street, a central area earmarked for regeneration have been repurposed into accessible gallery spaces. 

The Abacus art space has been taken over by The Caravan Gallery, the mobile exhibition venue and visual arts project run by artists Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale. Constantly grappling with what they call “local distinctiveness and regional identity” with a mischievous sense of the surreal, they’ve set up an “art exhibition-cum-alternative visitor information centre” to explore the many facets of Cardiff.

Also on Wood Street is As It was Give(n) to Me, Stacy Kranitz’s installation exploring the former mining communities of Appalachia. The hard-edged images are leavened by historical maps, folk artefacts and found objects that allow for a more textured expression of post-industrial decline.

From As It was Give(n) to Me © Stacy Kranitz
A couple of doors down is Roger Tiley’s own, softer black-and-white images of these communities. This bridge between Kranitz and Tiley, known for his work documenting Welsh coal mines, is a prime example of the vein of dialogue between Wales and America that Drake hopes runs through the exhibition.

“Looking at the experience of people in the former mining community of Appalachia and that of people in South Wales, you could find similar images – though perhaps the Welsh pictures have more people getting drunk and maybe different drugs… The impact of the closure of the mines on communities and the lack of prospects, the fact that in South Wales there is 35% unemployment… it parallels what’s going on in Appalachia.”
Similarly, Ken Griffith’s Patagonia delineates a shared culture between Wales and the Americas in a small pocket straddling Chile and Argentina. The New Zealander documented his expeditions to Chubut, Patagonia to follow in the footsteps of the Welsh settlers of the late 1800s who ventured to South America in search of a land where they could preserve their culture and language.

Stadium Plaza, a retail and leisure quarter replete with a Vue cinema and a bowling alley is another unexpected venue for Diffusion to sneak work into. While Vue punters queue at the concession stand, they’ll catch a glimpse of the raw, unvarnished images of California from Stephen McClaren’s Westcoastism. David Magnusson’s portraits of young girls from Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona who have taken purity vows with their fathers have been blown up to size, looming over the view of the River Taff. The curious can venture further to find work by the likes of Jack Latham, Janire Nájera, and Arthur Tress.

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