While the ubiquitous threshold of digital photography gallops forward inevitably – its breadth is a freedom, a carefree process – what of the careful depth of film? The arresting tonal range, with the subtlety of silk and night, the slippage of time in a darkroom, calm and concentrated, darker than dark, the sturdy limbs of an enlarger with shafts of perfect light and quite frankly, the magic of a developing image in the trays, fascinate and seduce and frustrate. The process modulates and attunes the mind’s eye. If digital offers a collective, analogue is precisely and idiosyncratically independent.

Everything may be individual, considered, and masterful but the resounding impact of the Barrydale Analogue Photography Festival, is the spirit of an original and convincing photographic lifeblood. An honouring of a physical print craftmanship that leaves an aspiring taste on your tongue. And the thrill of a hood of down-to-earth people (who effortlessly and deliciously seem to swear a lot).


On its third iteration, this week-long festival in the Little Karoo in early December was dominated by darkroom images in print, and by presented talks by the legendary. The entire festival is the hand of the eager, passionate, unswerving Graham Abbott, his wife Nicole and anyone who is willing to pitch in. It’s not that we have to consciously make analogue photography more valuable, it inevitably is. Analogue photography, also known as film photography, is a catch-all term for photography that uses chemical processes to capture an image, typically on paper. It is not even that it is increasingly rare, it has been the digestive tract of generations of photographers. As we fumble for the new, it already and profoundly exists.

It’s the intention of Abbott and others to factor in a return, or perhaps an advancement, of its oeuvre. Among the throng, for the few days of the annual event, is the exuberant and abjectly colourful rebellious individualism of you-can-make-a-photograph-from-anything Obie Oberholzer, the happy rogue of fashion photography, Gavin Furlonger singing, Hey Mr Tambourine Man, while snapping portraits as the night lengthens, and the brilliant intellectual image maker on the frontier of South African photography, Guy Tillim. They all turn to pay attention to Dennis Da Silva, a master printmaker, South Africa’s best. Its slow-cooked photographic cuisine. And they are all there.

Every second person has a camera dangling from their neck, it’s a group effort. A quirky, knowledgeable, passionate group effort. The locals and out-of-towners are there too. Wandering around the venue with walls packed with mostly black and white prints, set on the wire frames, it is the exhibition of photographs from the stalwart Drum magazine that clarifies the cause. Gritty and imaginative and startling, they reflect the buoyant power of capturing the thrum of South Africa in nuanced print.

Analogue photography needs a centre, an anchoring place in a city like Cape Town or Johannesburg. An architectural place, not so much a museum as a living gallery of the brilliant, with South Africa’s legacy of a prodigious line of photographers, an archive, a stimulus. Furlonger has the vision to begin archiving, under the aptly named PAPA (Photographic Archival Preservation Association) laboriously gathering and selecting negatives from estates – the likes of Billy Monk, Ginger Odes and others to be unfurled – which surely live alongside David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Daniel “Kgomo” Morolong, and their incisive gazes. And there is always the brio of the pinhole camera, or illustration, or abstraction, Beezy Bailey’s brave use of paint, or the imaginative gestures of the up-and-coming.

The howl of these photographers, precarious somehow, determined to expand a more intelligent multi-faceted future, registers. Like any inventive original, it has founders and keepers. Among tightly bound friends against a sea of difficulty. The video and lighting documenting the event is a gift on Peter Badenhorst’s part, everyone puts up their own work, writes their own labels, the visitors are simply asked to donate what is possible. I got into hell for buying a work before the official opening. But its already the third year of growth, and three is the perfect balanced proportion in any creative’s book; it’s a great optimistic number, that has gravitas.




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