The fifth edition of Diffusion, a biennial celebration of international photography, will return to Cardiff in October, expanding to Newport too this time, and in Noel Gardner’s view looks better than ever.
It stands both as a credit to the organisers and a boon for south Wales’ cultural landscape that photography festival Diffusion has maintained its biennial status, with the fifth edition taking place in Cardiff and Newport throughout October. The brainchild of Ffotogallery, which itself moved base from Penarth to Cardiff recently, Diffusion debuted in 2013 and has returned every two years with a different overarching theme each time. Its subtitle for 2021, Turning Point, refers to the shifts in thinking and doing which the pandemic has imposed on the world at large, and how this might be a catalyst for more inclusiveness and diversity in the photographic medium.
Projects with the scope of Diffusion tend to be calendar-fillers: when they finish in the public sense, work starts again behind the scenes right away. The impact of lockdown, and its unknowable, fluctuating nature, has by all accounts made this the most challenging edition of the festival yet – it’s a very collaborative affair, with multiple venues hosting exhibitions by a few dozen artists, so all their individual situations must be accounted for too. With this in mind, the organisers’ determination to increase Diffusion’s international scope this year is a bold move which, perusing the programme, deserves to pay off.
The More Than A Number exhibition, located in Ffotogallery (and available to view until the end of the year), comprises 12 sub-exhibitions by African documentary photographers, their common factor being the transitions – social, technological, cultural – within the specific nations featured, if not the continent in general. In doing so, Diffusion also seek to address how Western curators like themselves can best use their position and privilege to deliver such crosscultural projects.
Highlights from More Than A Number include Nana Kofi Acquah’s Elmina, titled after and depicting his Ghanaian birthplace – which, half a millennium before, was an early outpost of Portuguese colonial slavery. Jacques Nkinzingabo presents his I Am A Survivor project: portraits of people born during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, as was he. Egypt’s capital city is studied in Amina Kadous’ A Crack In The Memory Of My Memory, an evolving project based on a lengthy stretch of Cairo road, and The Home Seekers by Salih Basheer, which addresses the colourism the Sudanese photographer has experienced living there. And Fatoumata Diabaté’s Man As An Object / Man As An Animal sees the renowned Malian referencing stories learned in her childhood and the myths and symbolisms behind traditional African masks, which feature in her pictures to striking effect.
Amidst all this, Diffusion don’t lose sight of their own region, with many other exhibitions magnifying the Welsh landscape and people, circa 2021. Rhys Webber’s Wales From Everywhere will be displayed on Newport’s Friars Walk and focuses on the multicultural demographic of the city’s Maindee district, via portraits of residents from nearly three dozen nations. A conceptually similar venture is Women Of Newport, by Kamila Jarczak: from Poland but resident in the city, Jarczak aimed to highlight not only some great work by local women but also the possibility of fostering support networks through this.
You can also check out A Lockdown Landscape, by veteran Welsh photographer and activist Ron McCormick, on Friars Walk. Turning Point’s most directly COVID-themed item, its content dates from the initial period of lockdown last year, recording Newport streets which would have once been busy but suddenly found McCormick their sole inhabitant.
Cardiff Central Market, by Paul John Roberts, celebrates this Victorian-era structure’s existence in light of its lockdown-period closure and consequent struggle. It’s also uniquely displayed: outdoors, on a giant billboard besides the Motorpoint Arena Cardiff. From a time-honoured method of display to more technologically radical ideas, Richard Jones’ <Truth DeQay> mulls the dark heart of social media algorithms and lives lived digitally via a multimedia display whose centrepoint is a “floral wreath composed of a dense point cloud made from 40 million data points”.
Though back in the realm of traditional portraiture, the message conveyed by Allie Crewe in You Brought Your Own Light shares ground with Jones’ work: a demonstration of people’s basic humanity in the face of a nefarious media campaign. Showing in Cardiff’s Queens Arcade, having debuted in Manchester three years ago, it features trans and non-binary people and their individual stories; the title refers to Crewe’s intentional reliance on natural light only when shooting.
All of which equals only part of what Diffusion has programmed this year: there are various events in its opening two days, some other pop-up type happenings and a tie-in with this year’s Iris Prize, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue. It appears set to be a big part of the return of Welsh culture to the forefront of attention this autumn.
Diffusion, various venues in Cardiff and Newport, throughout October. Admission: free. Info: www.diffusionfestival.org
words NOEL GARDNER