Event organization is a complex activity that consists of designing and creating highly frequented public events such as concerts, shows, festivals, fairs and other major events. The whole event organization process revolves around the figure of the organizer, a professional who has the task of coordinating multiple activities (as well as the team of people involved in the event) that take the project from the creative and conceptual phases to its final execution: from location to funding for the organization, from the amount of staff needed to the content of the event itself, which must be planned in detail in order to be successful. These are all aspects that in theory might seem simple, but which in terms of volume and various types of contingencies in practice can prove to be obstacles, sometimes insurmountable, to be managed.
This is definitely a difficult role to play successfully. The main activity that this figure carries out is, without a doubt, public relations. Weaving a network of contacts with key figures who understand the involved realities not only in terms of logistics, but also in terms of the opportunities that can be generated, is of fundamental importance. Firstly, for a large territorial event, it is necessary to build a relationship with local administrations. Having the support of the Mayor or Councilor can be decisive for obtaining the right location or financial support for the event, which in any case passes through—rightly—resolutions and strict regulations.
In addition, public relations must be managed across the board, from business partners to the workforce who participates in organizing the event. The quality of relations is even more important if the promoting bodies are non-profit organizations. Given their charitable purposes, they often resort to volunteers to whom, in most cases, it is only possible to offer reimbursement for living expenses to those who are active in the show.
As obvious as it may seem, it is necessary to emphasize how competent the event organizer must be on the subject matter of the event. Therefore, they are not only figures who apply an organizational method, but must be strongly connected to the reasons that led to its creation. Each event is a personal story and conveys a particular feeling, for this you need the “tact” that only a competent team can have, made concrete and managed in detail by the organizer.
The Festival of Ethical Photography
Going into the specifics of an important event, we decided to write about an event that over the years has gained notoriety and blazon in the world of photography: the Festival of Ethical Photography in Lodi. Founded in 2010 by the Cultural Association Gruppo Fotografico Progetto Immagine in Lodi, the Festival of Ethical Photography has shown itself to be an excellent combination of organizational skills and cultural promotion through the medium of photography. Organized annually in the autumn months and taking place within Lodi’s beautiful historic city center where talented photographers converge, known or soon-to-be-made known, from Italy and abroad. The result is a healthy competition that allows photographers to get involved and give their best, attracting large numbers of audiences to the city, from the curious to photography lovers and students. To get a complete overview of the Festival’s goals, we interviewed Alberto Prina, Art Director and curator of the Festival since its premier.
First of all, the concept of ethics promoted by the Festival is fascinating, to the point of becoming the adjective that characterizes this proposal and one of its main objectives: “We do not define ourselves as ethical,” Prina tells us, “it would be presumptuous. Our Festival does not judge works on the basis of their ethics. We want that, through photography, emotions and messages on delicate, ethical issues are communicated in a true, simple and pure way as only photography can do. Environment, attention to the community, minorities. These are all aspects of reality that images can tell in their own way and we want photographers to be free to express themselves in this sense. We choose themes that drive the search for ethics and we try to highlight positive and negative values.”
For this reason, the Festival of Ethical Photography, during each day of the event, turns its gaze towards international photographic production. The theme, therefore, is not different each year, but photographers are given the freedom to express themselves and choose what is most important to them. It is important to present a photograph that reflects reality, in its positive and negative ethical aspects. The truth of the facts in their most direct and “pure” form that is told and is what mainly counts, and for this reason the photos in which the changes in digital post-production are minimal are particularly appreciated. What the curators of the Festival of Ethical Photography are looking for are true emotions and intellectual tensions.
The participants most appreciated by the organizers, Prina explains well, are young people. In fact, the wishes of those who organize the event are to take part in their wealth of experience or even to be a springboard. In fact, one of the main objectives of the Festival is to support photographers, to give them visibility. The younger participants, especially, need a springboard to get involved. The selection of the competitors takes place with preparatory meetings, in which the curators meet with each other and ask for opinions from a dense network of volunteers and professionals. The final decision, of course, is up to them. Lastly, the jury is international in order to follow the fil rouge that links the Festival to the international footprint it always seeks to have.
Among the many photographers, competitors and guests who have been attending the Festival for years, there are now many more who contribute to the event’s blazon. Above all, in the third year (2012), the name of Eugene Richards, considered one of the greatest photojournalists in the world and who attended when the Festival was just in its infancy, stands out. “We really owe a lot to him, because he allowed us to have a much stronger appeal by launching us into the international scene. Then, we are pleased to have many young contributors who have, after us, managed to build important careers.” Specifically, he refers to Antonio Faccilongo, an internationally awarded photographer who is famous around the world. He is the tip of the iceberg in the Spotlight Section project, dedicated to finding young talents and bringing them to the Festival. Francesco Comello is another among them, who also boasts numerous awards in his career. In the October 2020 event, Nikita Teryoshin won, whose images were even nominated for Picture of the Year. “For us it is essential to work with young people, to help them have visibility, to support them and photography itself, its ethical messages, values and emotions.”
Organizing the Festival
Taking care of such an event in a context like the city of Lodi presents multifaceted, with positive and negative aspects: “It is not easy for many reasons,” continues Prina, “but certainly doing it for so many years, despite the difficulties, makes us proud. Being in Lodi means working with your feet on the ground and having to establish solid roots. There is no possibility of great financial support and this forces us to pay attention to every detail, starting above all with the location. Fortunately, we always manage to build a network of economic funds with which we carry out the project and, in this regard, I would like to thank the Cariplo Foundation, which will support us financially in the near future. It gives us pride because such a certificate of esteem is priceless and means that the managerial work of recent years has produced very important results. Returning to Lodi, I also want to say that the advantage of a small city, however, is that it is extremely suitable for hosting many visitors. Paradoxically, Lodi hardly realizes how beautiful and how embellishing the festival is, rather than resizing it. The pandemic has also given such cities the opportunity to resurrect compared to the flight to the big cities of past years and Lodi is no exception. It is extremely connected to the rest of Lombardy, Italy and Europe and this makes getting around very easy. Then, of course, the difficulties are not lacking, especially if we are talking about political vicissitudes that do not concern only us, but the whole social context that suffers as a result. Another obstacle that is always present is that which concerns the exhibition spaces. Attendance is growing every year and therefore the need for large spaces also increases.”
If organizing events follows a very specific scheme, this has certainly been upset by the coronavirus pandemic which makes it impossible to move and gather, both for spectators and for professionals. And we are certainly not just talking about the Festival of Ethical Photography. However, Prina himself admits that, together with the inevitably negative effects that Covid-19 has caused, there have been others that have prompted the development of new perspectives otherwise set aside. In the history of the Gruppo Fotografia Progetto Immagine association, which in addition to the Festival has organized many other significant but less important events, changes have always been fruitful moments of new opportunities, as Alberto Prina himself continues to tell: “If you manage to overcome the difficulty that any change entails and to ensure that the life of an event or an association is not compromised, contingencies may arise that push the birth of new ideas, to rethink activities and implement them in a different way. For us, the pandemic represented just that.” Visitors to the eleventh annual event, held between September and October 2020, numbered about 7,000, just over a third compared to 2019. It may seem like a step backwards, but, on the contrary, Prina and his collaborators see a step forward in their proposal, dictated by the response of a loyal public who believed in the project and paid to go to Lodi despite the difficulty in travelling.
The Festival’s Future
Precisely because the pandemic represented a not indifferent change, which led to rethinking many aspects of the Festival, Prina himself admits that we will have to follow directions that before this moment had been set aside. On the one hand, the path of internationalization continues to be pursued and, on the other, it is the will of the curators “to experiment with new technologies, to project the event more and more towards an avant-garde future.” The testing phase of an app has just begun, as has the amount of work in the social field increased. “We want to use all the tools we have to help us, culture and photography, to have more stimuli and make us look at the new as possible and not as difficult as it is scary. Photography itself, today, is pure technology, even if we never forget the analog, which always has its importance and its value. We also want to grow in organization, structure and awareness. The solid roots we have built have helped us to stay on our feet and this should never be forgotten. But we wouldn’t have made many changes we made without the pandemic, so not all evils come to harm.”
The programming of the twelfth annual event has already begun, for which a fundraiser has also been extended until January 30th. The Festival, which always continues throughout the year in different forms, has also managed to break into the school world with lessons in DaD, with which the children are able to be involved in.
Between technological development, wise relationships with stakeholders and fundamental fundraising, the future of the Italian photographic festival par excellence seems more solid than ever, even in the international field.
cover image credit: Smithsonian (Accession number: 1976-103-106)
Testo Originale: Alessio Piatti / Traduzione: Peter Briggs