"Water consumption is increasing at twice the rate of population," explains FotoFest co-founder and artistic director Wendy Watriss. "Freshwater resources are being contaminated and diminished faster than they can regenerate. Ninety percent of the population of large fish species in the ocean has been eliminated. We cannot afford to take these things for granted."
This year's event has expanded beyond photography to include various platforms for public discussion and education. A four-day "Global Forum on Water" featuring several of the world's top scientists, urban designers, water experts and policy makers will take place at Rice University.
"We've always been very concerned with social and civic issues," says Watriss. "We want to make living in our city actively better, to get people moving, talking and interacting. We want to help create an urban experience."
The festival will feature 150 exhibits and art installations -- 30 curated by FotoFest, the remainder with participating spaces. FotoFest's search for artwork relating to water yielded hundreds of submissions from all over the world. Organizers narrowed them down to create shows exploring everything from the sensitivity of water to pollutants ("The Language of Water") to how New York gets water ("New York Waterworks") to a 150-year-old British swimming club ("The Serpentine Swimming Club"). For the consumers among us, there will also be a fine print auction featuring works by more than 90 contemporary international and U.S. photographers.
For the first time, FotoFest is also presenting a film and video series. Among the offerings is Drowned Out: We Can't Wish Them Away, which recounts the struggle of the people in Jalsindhi, India, with the rising Narmada Dam. Another film, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, centers around an unemployed Tokyo businessman who meets a beautiful woman who has an odd problem that causes her to fill up with water.
Photojournalists Wendy Watriss and Frederick Baldwin had the idea of bringing a global photography festival to Houston in 1985. "There was so much work out there that wasn't getting to the United States," says Watriss. "We decided to start an international photography festival here."
The duo commissioned four internationally recognized photographers, including fashion photography legend Helmut Newton, to photograph our very own Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The resulting photographs were used to kick off the first FotoFest the following year. The rest is art history. FotoFest is now the oldest continuously running international photographic arts event in the United States.
If you're not already an avid photography fan, consider this your opportunity to explore this rich art and our diverse city, as well as learn about vital social issues. And if you're a photo buff, well, take some time off from work -- you've got places to be.