The European blues scene is often over shadowed by its American counterpart and the 4th European Blues Expo gives you a clue as to why. For while the venue is refreshingly new and the photographic exhibition showcasing the work of 18 European blues photographers is excellent, a lack of on going marketing means both the photos and the hard work done by the European Blues Union is not reaching its potential audience.
As the vivacious blues singer and story teller Candye Kane recently stated, France has long supported the arts in general and the blues in particular, though she significantly added that for economic reasons the financial support had dwindled in recent years.
And yet, in spite of the consistent support, the French have a weirdly ambivalent relationship to many art forms. They effectively sponsor a wide variety of arts and source the venues in which to exhibit them, but then quietly forget about them.
No big surprise then, that after having failed to get a response by either phone or email in advance of visiting the European Blues Exhibition at the purpose built Maison de la Fourdonne, in the beautiful medieval town of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, we elicited no more than a bewildered shrug of the shoulders from the local tourist office. Undeterred, our perseverance led us to an unattended darkened room, where we flicked on the lights and effectively had an international blues exhibition all to ourselves.
The European Blues Exhibition already enjoys international renown, having been previously exhibited in Barcelona and Brussels before finding its current home in the heart of a beguiling tourist trap in south West France.
The 4th Euro Blues Expo is supported by the Cahors Blues Festival, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie’s council and the European Blues Union. The potential for spreading the blues message via a photographic exhibition in such a busy place is self evident, it just requires some basic marketing to realise its potential.
They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and photographic exhibitors will tell you that a theme is crucial to giving their work a context. In that respect the passion, spectacle and spontaneity of blues performers provides the perfect thematic material.
The venue turns out to be new and purpose built, and though the lighting angles are sometimes unsympathetic to the photos, there’s an uplifting feel to the exhibition as a whole, born of a body of photos that successfully strive to convey blues music’s essential excitement.
The photos are monuments to the shared passion of both the photographers and the performers, as evidenced by Italian photographer SKAtomaTTO’s composite photo of this year’s EBU’s blues market in Brussels, which brings together the mutual and enduring support for the blues in all its forms.
Fred Zicazic Delforge’s photo of Norbert Schneide with his trilby and red Gibson tells a tale of the unthinkable crossover potential of the blues, as Norbert was also Austria’s representative at the Eurovision song contest!
John Bull’s action shot of Poland’s Drunk Lamb at the 2015 Blues challenge oozes power and passion, while Alain Hiot’s photo of Veronica & the Red Wine Serenaders – the 2013 winners of the Toulouse Euro Blues Challenge – is a moment captured, as Veronica Sbergia on washboard and her double bass player fill the photographic lens with brio.
Irish photographer Charlie Hussey’s photo of The Travellin’ Brothers (second photo below) – and the Spanish winners of the 2015 Brussells Blues Challenge – suggests that sometimes you have to rely on a gut feeling as well as your intrinsic artistic skills to capture the winners!
Hussey’s 2011 photo of bass playing vocalist Aija Puurtinen (from Honey B & T-Bones) captures one of Finland’s most esteemed blues band, though the unforgiving light blurs the impact a little, while fellow countryman Pertti Ñurmi’s portrait of Micke Björklöf, Lefty Leppänen and Chef Kivimäki is a reminder of the strength in depth of the Finish blues scene.
The mix of pictorial intensity and dazzling colour draws us into a raft of photos which are the result of patience, focus and empathetic understanding of the music. If the result leads to just 1 in 4 people wanting to know more about both the subjects and the European Blues Union’s activity in general, then it’s a job well done.
The 4th European Blues Expo has once again set high artistic standards through its extensive infrastructure and the unrelenting support and enthusiasm of true blues fans. What’s needed now is some post launch brochures and signage to alert the town’s thousands of tourists to a largely undiscovered blues exhibition of real merit.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos of exhibition by Anne Pioton
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