INTERVIEW: CJ CLARKE

Fòcas Programme Director Katherine Parhar interviews Just Another Photo Festival’s co-founder and director CJ Clarke. JAPF is an inspiring grassroots platform that brings photography to diverse communities across India. JAPF’s third edition will be held this 21st – 24th December in various locations across Kolkata, the festival will a feature a variety of photographers, filmmakers and artists, including photographers from the Fòcas India: Document programme. 

© Courtesy of JAPF

F: Just Another Photo Festival started in 2015, I think. India now has many photography festivals, but even in this vibrant field, JAPF is special; why is that?

CJ: We are committed to a very simple idea, that is: to take photography to the people. We are not looking to create a monolithic institution, but looking to create something reactive and responsive to the audience; to the areas in which we are showing work; and to developments in new technologies. We want to reach the broadest possible audience with the best in global photos, films, VR, interactive media. The audience remains at the core of what we do, constantly learning from their responses to work and understanding how we can make it accessible and entertaining.

© Courtesy of JAPF

F: JAPF shows in a different city each year; it goes to – and shows in – places other festivals don’t, in villages, slums and by India’s sacred Ganges, for example; what are the challenges, and the rewards, of working in this peripatetic and provisional way?

CJ: The challenges are those of logistics: how to power a projector in a village that has just had a power cut for instance! How to get all the equipment from one place to another. But, as I say, these are just problems of logistics that we can over come with our fabulous team of volunteers.

The rewards are far greater and in the main, most unexpected. We purposely do not set any limits on the work we show. We show a vast range from documentary through to high concept fashion and everything in between. We do not want to proscribe to an audience what we think is fit for them to see, we want to learn from their reaction. For instance, the reaction of an audience on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi was incredible. Who would have guessed … but as I say, we are there to learn from these reactions and incorporate this feedback into the way in which we curate, present and talk about the work to audiences.

Taking the festival to different places means that we are constantly confronted by new reactions; we are constantly learning and evolving as a result.

Audience watching JAPF, Edition 2 screenings, Varanasi, India. © Courtesy of JAPF

F: How do you think emerging photographers in India – and around the world – can best energise their own photography scene, wherever it might be?

We don’t like to think of the photography scene in isolation, or talk about the “documentary film scene” etc. these are labels proscribed by others and we should always seek to challenge labels and look towards the commonalties of visual media, of story telling or the power of visual media to move an group of people. Our audience are everywhere … from presentations in local social clubs or in shopping centres, to family friends or other groups … outlets are everywhere the means to do so is more simple than ever: a projector, a wall … a computer screen, a phone … finding and forging new audiences is not a luxury but should be an essential part of our work. And, that word … “Audience” … maybe we should replace this word with “partners” or “collaborators” … this just a passivity that is growing every more outmoded with the development of new technologies. We should be at the vanguard of new developments, not passive onlookers ourselves.

To find our more about JAPF and their exciting programme this month, please see here.