A letter from the festival director

Tracy Marshall is an Arts Director & Producer specialising in the production of photography exhibitions, festivals, education projects and workshops. She is founding director of Northern Narratives and was previously Director of LOOK Photo Biennial, Open Eye Gallery Liverpool and Belfast Exposed Gallery in Northern Ireland. Tracy has previously been Director of Development for a number of international Arts organisations covering the development of work for classical music, visual arts and literature. Prior to this she had also been a Director of Campaigns for health, social welfare and education charities across UK & Ireland. In this new venture as Bristol Photo Festival Director, Tracy Marshall shares some words about the journey that took her to Bristol.

When I was first asked to join the team developing the Bristol Photo Festival I knew it would be a festival unlike few others. Having directed and been on the board of a number of photography festivals, and having been a director in two photography galleries, I could see from the structure being developed that this was an ambitious and vision led organisation.  This was not just a festival for a few months annually or bi annually, this was a festival establishing itself as an organisation of permanence within the city, which offered sustained programmes of education, engagement and mentorship 12 months a year, every year. This permanent structure would then bi annually produce a 2-month series of high quality national and international exhibitions across all of the city. What was most authentic about this vision and ambition was that it had at its core collaboration- with all major cultural and arts organisations, the academic institutes, the community groups, the council and local businesses. This ensured the festival had reach, commitment and the ability to fulfil its ambitions across and for the city, both during the year and during the biannual festival periods, truly consuming and filling the city spaces, places and communities. 

Cookie In The Snow, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1984. © Chris Killip

Another major appealing element of this festival for me was the exceptional professional expertise that already existed within the team. Combined alongside some of the top museum/gallery curators and directors from the city was photography expertise at the highest level. Rudi Thoemmes and Alejandro Acin – who had founded and established the highly successful and much missed Photobook Bristol and whose publishing, education and visual arts work internationally had helped raise Bristol to the forefront of photography. Finally, Eleanor McNair, one of the most well-respected media writers for the photography sector. With these focus’ combined it ensured the festival would produce impactful, relevant and inspiring outcomes locally, nationally and internationally.  

Combined alongside these draws for me was also the aims for the programme of the 2-month festival period in spring 2021. These were inspired and inspiring, aiming to bring a core programme of high-quality exhibitions into all the key cultural institutions in the city which would consume them all in photography for the very first time simultaneously. Combined with this would be an evolving second tier series of exhibitions across more innovative and unusual city spaces in every section of the city. Both programmes comprised of diverse national and international artists with a sense of place as the theme permeating throughout. Coupled with this are 2 new commissions by the festival featuring a local and international photographer taking Bristol as their focus. 

Summer Street Party, Merthyr Vale, Wales, 2018. © Clementine Schneidermann

These dynamic foundations ensure that Bristol Photo Festival can produce a festival which will be at the top of the international calendar of biannual events for photography but also one that puts photography at the heart of all Bristol cultural institutions and embeds it in sustained way within the city, its communities and its cultural/educational offerings for the long term. 

As a team we have put our combined energies and skills into this first edition- and alongside the rest of society- we have done this most recently in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, but with the knowledge that moving on from this crisis we all crave spaces to meet, positive outlooks, plans to look ahead to and creative nourishment and inspiration. 

Tracy Marshall