A Photography Festival Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Let me set a scene for you: A broad, tree-lined brick street is dotted with lively cafés, art galleries, and restaurant patios. Old friends relax and reconnect while new friendships are formed. Inside the beautiful gilded old Paramount Theater photography masters share their projects, personal experiences, and sources of inspiration.

The photography world is full of seminars, workshops, and exhibitions. But over time, a few events start to stand out from the others as they become more celebrated. One of these events is the annual LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia. This year’s festival has an impressive lineup of artists, including Larry Fink, Alec Soth, David Alan Harvey, Piotr Naskrecki, and more.

NOTE: The photos featured here are a selection of images from the upcoming 2015 festival.

National Geographic photographers and photo editors have been involved in the LOOK3 festival since its inception. I reached out to Victoria Hindley, executive director of the festival, photographer Vince Musi, and former National Geographic director of photography David Griffin to share the story of LOOK3.

According to Hindley, the festival’s origins can be traced back to an intimate celebration where photographers would project their work. It was called Hot Shots, and National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols held it in his Berkeley, California, loft starting in the early 1980s. Nichols later moved to the Charlottesville, Virginia, area and continued the tradition, “eventually drawing nearly 500 people to his backyard in Sugar Hollow,” she says.

In 2007, Nichols and friends Jessica Nagle, Will Kerner, and Jon Golden turned the annual night into a nonprofit and organized the festival. Now the festival and its educational programming reach over 25,000 people. But what really sets LOOK3 apart from other festivals is that, despite its rapid growth, it still feels intimate.

Musi, who emcees the event and is a featured artist this year, says LOOK3 is special because “we not only believe in the power of photography but the people behind the photographs. This has always been our focus especially. LOOK3 has always been about the artist first.”

Many photographers and photo editors from all corners of the world come to LOOK3 for inspiration. “Photography is by nature a solitary act. This is the one time, the one place, where we are not competitive. We are sharing with each other,” Musi says.

For LOOK3 board member David Griffin, the festival provides a place to discuss the changing industry. “I got involved in LOOK3 because of my passion and love for the photographic community,” Griffin says. “But I’m continuing because the profession is going through a significant and stressful upheaval. It is a family, and we all need to be there to help in whatever way each of us can. The work that photojournalists and documentary photographers do is important to how knowledge and truth is conveyed to the public. I love that so many people are enthusiastically embracing photography today.”

Griffin also says that LOOK3 is “infused with the positive vibe of the unique venue in Charlottesville and the community of photography lovers who attend.”

The 2015 LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph will be held in Charlottesville, Virginia, from June 10 to 13. Purchase passes and tickets here.

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