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The Lake Project #9277-1, 2001 David Maisel BOOKS & THE CULTURE Water Works BY JAKE MILLER he path I’d been following through the Big Thicket led out of the woods and down the bank of a small slough, where it disappeared into the murky water with a few wisps of mist swirl’ ing in the cool morning air. I could see a few ways to get to the other side: run out onto a pile of flotsam and hope that it would hold me while I scurried across, balance my way across on a. row of cypress knees, or wade into the opaque watersand trust that they wouldn’t get too deep or harbor any unfriendly creatures. I chose to turn around and hike another path. And as I did, that lovely, murky dead end struck me as a foreboding omen for FotoFest 2004. I had stopped to hike through the Big Thicket on my way to Houston, where I planned to spend a few days to see the tenth edition of the internationally acclaimed biennial of photography and photo-related arts. This year’s theme was “celebrating water,” and the festival included work by well over 100 photographersat more than 100 locations throughout the cityplus film and video series, sculpture and multi-media installations, seminars on regional water issues, and something that was billed as the first “Global Forum on Waters’ It seemed like there was plenty of potential for murky paths and bridgeless crossings. One of Houston’s major artistic events, FotoFest was founded in 1983 by Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin. After working as photojournalists for years, the husband-and-wife team had begun to realize that a festival might be a better way to get attention for the kind of pictures and stories that they wanted people to see and hear rather than trying to make and market pictures themselves. This year their goal was to raise consciousness about problems with waterlocal, regional, and global. Over the course of a few days, I managed to see about 22 shows by more than 30 artists. The photography ranged from straight reportage to complete digital fabrications, from conceptual art to concrete evidence of basic physical processes, horrific ecological disasters and sublime, transcendent beauty. Many of the projects \(like David Maisel’s gorgeous aerial shots of blood-red algae several of these things at once. The shows took place in artists’ spaces and derelict buildings on the edge of downtown, in the lobbies of corporate office towers, and on college campuses. There were shows in some of the richest, best-known museums in town, along with a show in the brand-new New World Museum in the West End, which is surrounded by dilapidated houses and newly vacant lots sprouting townhouse condominiums. Instead of feeling cobbled together and confusing, as often happens with events of this sheer size and audacious breadth, the variety of both photographic 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/7/04