In an attempt to lend a little more clout to its biennial Month of Photography (MoP), the South African Centre for Photography on Hiddingh Campus has decided on a couple of changes for the event's next run in 2004.
Tracing the history of the MoP at a special seminar at Hiddingh last week, Associate Professor Geoffrey Grundlingh pointed out that photographic biennials such as the celebrated Mois de la foto a Paris had served as a means to confirm photography's authoritative position in contemporary art practice. In keeping with this ideal, the Centre for Photography - and Grundlingh specifically - decided some years ago that a post-apartheid period where photographers were "re-inventing" themselves provided fertile grounds on which to build a stronger photographic culture in South Africa.
Grundlingh had also on travels to Finland as part of a Nordic-South Africa cultural exchange project realised that an ongoing programme of international photographic exchanges between South Africa and other countries would be of enormous benefit to all parties. That was about five years ago, just before the first MoP was run in 1999.
Initially, the idea was to be as inclusive as possible, so the exhibitions were not conceptualised in terms of any dominant photographic genre, Grundlingh said of the 1999 and 2002 shows.
"Now, two years later, we have a Clem Sunter-like high road-low road scenario for MoP," he added. "In many aspects, the initial conceptualisation of MoP has not altogether succeeded, but the events we have put up have not been so bad as to give up the chase."
A review was thus required, and is currently underway, Grundlingh pointed out. Crucially, it has been realised that there is a need to separate the functions of planning, funding, curating and managing MoP in a drive "to professionalise things".
"We would like to run MoP in a developed or mature environment along more professional lines while maintaining our policy of inclusivity."
Finding money remains one of MoP's biggest obstacles, as funds had in the past usually been secured in small allotments from a range of contributors, Grundlingh noted. This time round, however, event organisers hope to, like the successful North Sea Jazz Festival, find a Big Brother "with deep pockets" to capitalise the event.
Importantly, it has also been decided to set MoP 2004 up around a specific theme or genre. A selection committee would invite proposals from individuals, institutions or countries, and then choose material suited to that theme.
Works not selected for the main show would then make their way into a fringe event to be run along Long Street in Cape Town. "The fringe will have the freedom to show whatever it wants to and have its own organising committee, but will still be answerable to MoP central."
International shows will also be increased.
Another important landmark for next year's MoP is that it will, for the first time, disassociate itself from the Cape Town City Festival. In the past, the Festival had siphoned off a lot of interest and prestige from MoP, Grundlingh and others commented at the meeting.
A suitable alternative time would now have to be found for MoP, an issue still under discussion, Grundlingh said.
"I hope that with the proposed structural changes and with the significant devolution of responsibilities, MoP will survive and flourish and open many doors for our photographers."