The FotoFocus Biennial 2016, Photography, the Undocument is a month-long celebration of photography and lens-based art held throughout Cincinnati and the surrounding region. Featuring over 60 exhibitions and over 100 events at Participating Venues, the 2016 Biennial is anchored by eight major exhibitions curated by FotoFocus Artistic Director, Kevin Moore, questioning ­­­the documentary nature of photography, including solo exhibitions of Roe Ethridge, Zanele Muholi, and Jackie Nickerson. The Biennial Program includes four days of events and programming, featuring artist and curator talks, keynote lectures, tours, screenings, and performances to be held October 6–9, 2016. The Biennial brings together the community to celebrate October as the Month of Photography.

The Participating Venues take diverse approaches to the theme: Photography, the Undocument, which seeks to break apart assumptions about photography’s documentary character by emphasizing the medium’s natural tendency to distort and reshape the visible world.

About the Theme

The theme of the FotoFocus Biennial 2016 is Photography, the Undocument. Curated by Artistic Director and New York-based curator Kevin Moore, the FotoFocus exhibitions and programming will offer an exploration of alternative understandings of the documentary photograph, both questioning its claims to objectivity and observing its tendency toward subtle or explicit fantasy. The participating venues take diverse approaches to the Undocument theme, which seeks to break apart assumptions about photography’s documentary character by emphasizing the medium’s natural tendency to distort and reshape the visible world.

Photography is identified with objectivity, documentation, and realism. Yet the medium essentially abstracts the visible world, reducing its surfaces to two dimensions, editing down to a narrowly chosen single frame, and often presenting the world in black and white. Digital technologies of recent decades, allowing for seamless manipulation of photographs, have further eroded photography’s documentary authority. Surrealism historically played on these contradictions, conjuring from within the photographic image the eerie, the uncanny, and the outright bizarre. “Beauty will be convulsive,” wrote André Breton in 1928, referring to art’s ability to break the surface of realism, of the everyday, to reveal sudden insights, even perhaps truths. The Undocument is an exploration of alternate understandings of the documentary photograph—its claims to objective realism and simultaneous potential for pure fantasy.

Director’s Statement

Mary Ellen Goeke, Executive Director
Mary Ellen Goeke, Executive Director

FotoFocus is proud to present the third installment of the Biennial, built around the theme of Photography, the Undocument, which features over 60 FotoFocus Participating Venues throughout the region. This year we asked venues to respond to a universal theme, which they did through the application process and in planning their exhibitions over the past year, and to present exhibitions that explore the boundaries between fact and fiction in lens-based works of art. Founded in 2010 by James Crump and Tom Schiff, FotoFocus was built on the idea of collaboration and in celebration of the shared experiences made possible through photographic and lens-based exhibitions and programming. This collective experience is developed through a unique cooperation between art museums, artists, curators, and educators in the exploration of the photographic art form.

In the non-Biennial year, FotoFocus continues to support visual and educational projects within the photographic realm that align with its mission. Since the last Biennial, FotoFocus has provided support for the documentary film presentation of Through a Lens Darkly, a Cincinnati Film Society project presented at the Cincinnati Art Museum; the screening of the film Punctured by artist William E. Jones at the Arles Photography Festival in southern France; the FotoFocus Symposium “Mapplethorpe + 25,” held this past fall at the Contemporary Arts Center; and the symposium’s follow up discussion at the New Museum in New York. This symposium and conversation marked the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Robert Mapplethorpe’s historic exhibition The Perfect Moment in Cincinnati and is an example of the outstanding programming developed by FotoFocus in its partnerships. FotoFocus welcomed the opportunity to connect both the scholarly and artistic communities in the presentation of new and revised directions in telling this historic tale.

This year FotoFocus is making access to the Biennial exhibitions and programming easy and affordable by offering one level of Passport. Buying a twenty-five dollar FotoFocus Passport is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the offerings of the Biennial: to visit the Participating Venues, to explore old and new neighborhoods alike, to have unique experiences and discussions, and to investigate your own approach to the theme as it relates to the history of the photographic medium. Please consider that this Passport provides an all-access pass to the Biennial Opening Program in Downtown Cincinnati and to over 60 exhibitions on view, from as far north as Columbus, and as far south as Highland Heights, Kentucky.

Since its inception, FotoFocus has invested in the art community to create a catalyst for regional organizations to expand on the international dialogue that art can bring about. Thank you for your continued support of FotoFocus by patronizing the venues and programs on view as part of the Biennial.

In closing, I would like to personally thank our Sponsors, our Collector and Contributor Level Patrons, and the outstanding work of the FotoFocus team. Our Artistic Director and Curator, Kevin Moore, has again brought his special talent in attracting the attention of a number of significant new artists in whose work we get to know, perhaps for the first time, in our Biennial Program. Also thanks go to Carissa Barnard, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs, who has worked tirelessly to organize the Biennial exhibitions and programs to all open by October 6th! Her professionalism and creative problem solving skills are invaluable to our FotoFocus team. Nancy Glier, our CFO, wears many hats—most importantly keeping FotoFocus within budget, and does it all with great efficiency and graciousness. Sarah Klayer plays an integral part in managing all FotoFocus events seamlessly, and has developed our social media and outreach to fit our ever-growing audience. Finally, we have benefitted tremendously from the design and website creations of Jacob Drabik, who we are lucky to have working with us on loan from the Lightborne team. Again, thanks to this small but amazing group who put FotoFocus together this year.

Curator’s Statement

Kevin Moore, Curator and Artistic Director
Kevin Moore, Curator and Artistic Director

We are all here to enjoy and hopefully be challenged by some of the best photography of our day—thank you for coming! More than that, we are here to explore a deeper understanding of our lives and selves through photography. Photography, including film and video, bears the closest relationship to “reality” as we know it. This year’s biennial theme, Photography, the Undocument, not only presents a way to try to unify all the different exhibitions going on around town; it offers a chance to think about a fundamental aspect of the photographic medium: its assumed ability to document as well as its less-recognized tendency to distort and reshape, intentionally or not, the world it records. That second part is where photography, for me, gets interesting, for I have long thought that we have entirely schizophrenic expectations when it comes to photography. On the one hand, we expect it to show us objective truths, stolen from the world, unaltered; on the other hand, we use photography regularly to invent fantasy or to sway opinion. Fashion photography is an obvious example, but also consider the influence of photojournalists with a particular point of view or mandate on assignment, who shape the story a certain way. The larger philosophical questions here are: how do we grasp “realism” or “reality” through photography and, more importantly, how do we alter and shape reality through imagination to form our own individual point of view, our own reality? It’s something we all do through life and photography is arguably our most valuable tool. In creating eight FotoFocus exhibitions and also supporting and encouraging over 60 others held at Participating Venues, the goal as always has been to offer variety—something for everyone—so that visitors with all kinds of tastes and interests can find several shows that really compel them. More than that, I hope, given the number and variety of shows at so many locations, visitors will have the good fortune to stumble upon something they wouldn’t normally have sought out. Besides the usual places we go to for art in Cincinnati—the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Art Museum, Taft Museum of Art, Alice F. And Harris K. Weston Art Gallery—remember that there are significant FotoFocus exhibitions happening at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, DAAP, the 21c Museum Hotel, Wave Pool, and at the art museums in Columbus and Dayton as well. Fortunately, most of these shows will be on view for more than the month October.

Finally, I encourage everyone to take a moment to look at the October 6–9 program schedule, which will feature many of the artists we’re exhibiting this year, in town to talk about their work, and other fascinating art- and non-art world people. One aspect of the biennial that we, the FotoFocus team, try to emphasize is open discussion—with participants, both on and off stage, and among visitors, through various receptions and dinners. Certainly there will be magic moments within the exhibitions themselves and during the formal presentations and panel discussions on stage, but meaningful exchanges so often happen in casual conversation, in one-on-ones between visitors of all ages and levels of knowledge occurring throughout the month. We hope you will join us and join in.

FotoFocus Biennial History

Launched in October 2012, the FotoFocus Biennial is a regional, month-long celebration of photography and lens-based art held throughout Cincinnati and the surrounding region. The Biennial brings together the community to celebrate October as the Month of Photography.

FotoFocus Biennial 2014 — Photography in Dialogue
The second edition of the Biennial, hosted in October of 2014 and centered around Washington Park, included six original exhibitions curated by FotoFocus, the premiere of the FotoFocus ArtHub, as well as exhibitions by over 60 Participating Venues throughout the region. The FotoFocus featured programming included five days of lectures, panel discussions, screenings, and performances with curators, critics, and art world professionals, all focused on one common theme: Photography in Dialogue. FotoFocus welcomed over 115,000 visitors to the Biennial. #FotoFocus2014

Biennial 2012 — People. Places. Photography.
In October of 2012 the FotoFocus Biennial became the region’s first event to bring together over 60 venues to simultaneously present contemporary and historical photography, as well as artistic and educational programing. The inaugural event welcomed 63,000 visitors to the FotoFocus Biennial 2012.

About FotoFocus

Founded in 2010, FotoFocus is a Cincinnati-based non-profit arts organization whose mission is to present the finest in contemporary photography and lens-based art that is artistically, intellectually, and academically rigorous, and support programs that are accessible, educational and enriching to a diverse public. FotoFocus celebrates and champions photography as the medium of our time and aims to encourage dialogue about the world through the art of photography. FotoFocus programming includes the Lecture and Visiting Artist Series, a series that has invited more than 35 internationally-renowned photographers to Cincinnati including Doug Aitken, Gregory Crewdson, Thomas Demand, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Laurie Simmons, in addition to the FotoFocus Biennials. Since its inception, FotoFocus has presented close to 300 projects, worked with over 100 partners and provided support and funding to over 150 programs.

Who We Are

  • Mary Ellen Goeke, Executive Director
  • Kevin Moore, Artistic Director and Curator
  • Nancy Glier, Deputy Director of Finance and Operations
  • Carissa Barnard, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Programming
  • Sarah Klayer, Director of Communications and Events
  • Jacob Drabik, Designer and Project Manager

Board Members

  • Bruce Halpryn, President/Treasurer
  • Barry W. Andersen, Secretary
  • Maureen France, Director
  • Melvin Grier, Director
  • Kerri L. Richardson, Director
  • Donnell J. Bell, Director
Get The Passport

The Passport is your access pass to the FotoFocus Biennial 2016