The “Under Construction” Exhibit Report by the Observe Collective

(A.g.’s Note: We’re glad to have Observe Collective back on the blog again with some highlights of their recently held Under Construction exhibit in Germany. Check it out!)

Observe Collective from Cut Production Germany on Vimeo.

A Documentary about international street photographers. Observe Collective.

As summer comes to an official close, June in Germany feels more than a season away. More like a dream entirely. What started out as a modest group exhibit for Observe Collective evolved into the most extraordinary international photographic extravaganza we could imagine. It was as if the entire city of Iserlohn assumed the role of the official Observe Fairgrounds for the weekend.

Photographers started arriving in carloads from airports and train stations on June 12th, the morning of the opening. It felt like an enormous family reunion but ironically, most “family members” were meeting (in person) for the first time. What was even more extraordinary than the arrival of 9 of the 13 Observe members was the friends from the street photography community that traveled from countries as far away as Thailand to celebrate with us. Photographers came from England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, Belgium, Israel, Poland, Thailand, and of course, Germany.

The opening started at 7 pm. We imagined perhaps 50 people would show up. Reportedly, over 300 people were in attendance. TV cameras, newspaper reporters, and videographers were present. The Städtische Galerie where the show was held is breathtakingly beautiful. A historic stone structure in downtown Iserlohn with two floors of the finest exhibit space. Exhibiting on walls that have been graced by such names as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Steve McCurry, Paolo Pellegrin, André Kertész, Larry Towell, Sergio Larrain  and Sebastião Salgado is slightly humbling. Each Observer was represented with 7-10 photographs, for a show that totaled 108 pieces. Speeches were made, prints were raffled, the beer garden was flowing, and after two or three hours, the doors were closed to the public and a catered dinner was brought in for sponsors, curators, Observe and friends.
Day Two started very early for many of us, as after-parties continued into the wee hours. The Under Construction exhibit began with an opening and welcome from the Mayor before the 3 prize winners were announced. First Place went to Jo Wallace from England; Second Place: Kimberley Britt from the U.S., and Third Place: Ryan Tacay from Canada. (All finalists are shown and listed on the Observe Collective website.) The venue was a construction site of a large downtown office building, partially finished. The finalist’s pictures were displayed on raw concrete walls with theatrical lighting towers illuminating the prints. Circular tables were placed throughout the space topped with mimosas, beer, and pastries. It was among the most original and dramatic settings for an exhibit that most of us had ever witnessed. For additional dramatic effect, the skies blackened and produced a downpour that lasted about 20 minutes. A spectacular conclusion to a very memorable exhibit.
The day continued with chartered buses that brought Observe and friends to local points of pride. From there, buses divided taking people to a choice of surrounding cities—either Münster or Cologne—for a day of shooting and sightseeing. The day concluded with everyone meeting back in Iserlohn at a local restaurant that was reserved for a private dinner for all of us. Exquisite local food and barbecue was prepared along with beer and wine. Not willing to call it a night, another after-party once again kept the dream alive until the wee hours.
Day Three began with a garden breakfast in the backyard of one of the local volunteers. Following breakfast, goodbyes were made with many of our visiting friends as they left to catch departing flights. The gallery was re-opened for the rest of us to take a closer look at the exhibit that had been nearly impossible for Observers to absorb on opening night. As one Observer said during an interview, this is the type of exhibit that an established photographer is lucky to have late in their career. The fact that we had such an exhibit this early in our careers is humbling, to say the least.
Day Three concluded with a farewell dinner at a quaint, hilltop restaurant overlooking the city of Iserlohn. About 30 of us took over the main dining room and sat around one, large table. Everyone took turns making speeches and giving thanks to those that made the entire event possible. It was hard to believe that the majority of us had met for the first time just two days earlier as the evening felt more like a family, holiday dinner.
Our experience of German hospitality is unmatched. The amount of planning, preparation, financial support, donations, volunteers, and general hospitality was overwhelming. Local residents opened their homes to accommodate some of us; a city hotel offered free rooms for others. How rewarding it was to see a city and community that values and supports the arts so earnestly. The Observe Collective offers heartfelt gratitude to the lovely people of Iserlohn, Rainer Danne and everyone at the Städtische Galerie, Martin Zirbes for the exquisite museum prints, the judges and participants of the Under Construction competition, the Under Construction committee and volunteers, the corporate sponsors, transportation services, restaurant(s), Christian Penn and Cut Production Germany, and last but not least, our very own Monty May, without whose grand vision, contagious enthusiasm, and unwavering persistence, none of this would have happened.
In 2017, Iserlohn is planning to host a week-long, international street photography festival with multiple exhibitions, workshops and competition. Follow Observe Collective for details.

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