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3 January 2023

Welcome to Lanzarote, 29°N 13°W: a place to network with professional photographers!

KörperMagazine in collab with Elena Isaeva. Photos by Gersón Díaz

We usually link quality cultural events to big cities and tend to overlook what’s going on in smaller places. But isn’t it the time to change the focus and open up to more contexts, submeanings and a wider picture of the world around us?

Did you know that “29 13” [Spanish: ”VEINTINUEVE TRECE”] are not just the geographical coordinates of the tiny Canary island Lanzarote but the name of a local Meeting for Photography and Audiovisual Arts?

This year it was taking place in its capital Arrecife already for the seventh time from November 8-12, 2022. The program included master-classes by renowned international photographers, artists and designers, three new photo expositions, a local photobook award La Lata with a prize of 4500 euros to a winning author, and a big networking opportunity for all creative professionals of the island.

Körper Magazine went to Lanzarote for the event opening and talked to Nicolás Melián, a director of “29 13” on the specifics of organizing such projects on a small island, his main challenges, goals, key audience and personal sources of inspiration as a photography professional. 

Explore more food for thought out of the interview below!

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Nicolás Melián portrait at the presentation of the festival

What are the goals of the project “29 13”?

Firstly, to situate Lanzarote on the cultural map of Spain. We try to focus 60-70% of our program on photography but are not limited by it and include design, illustration and audiovisual arts. This makes our program more inspirational and helps to instigate a broader exchange of ideas. Secondly, to unite photographers of all the Canary Islands. We want to give opportunities to young creatives who do not have enough economic resources to go to other events outside the islands.

I was surprised to see that the opening ceremony was translated into sign language. How did you come to this idea? It is not that common nowadays…

It is very bad that you were surprised! It just should be like this and all people should be included. The same way we should include women and talk about problems of gender violence.

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Rebeka Arce in the presentation of her speech

For example, this Friday our guest Rebeka Arce will do a master class where we create some graphics to commemorate the 25th of November (International  Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women). Later it will be part of Lanzarote’s campaign 25N in collaboration with the local social association Mararia.

Who is your audience? Do you want to attract  mass spectators from the island or do you focus only on photo and art professionals?

“29 13” is an event for the creative sector professionals, not for the mass audience. You should think carefully about how to use public money you receive as an association, and I am very meticulous about wasting it properly. 

For the mass spectator, we have other projects during the year, where we talk about the importance of photography. For example, we collaborate with the local Center of Alzheimer and reflect on the importance of memory. Without photo albums, there is no memory – thus, photography can link families. 

Do you have volunteers for “29 13” or contract all your team?

We pay all our team. The goal is to situate the audiovisual sector and do a quality job – not to exploit people. Only me and my business partner Joaquin Vera were the so-to-say volunteers at the beginning, as we were investing in the project without earning for the first few years.

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It is already your seventh edition. What has changed since your first year?

It has changed a lot. First of all, we grew from two people into a team of twenty!

Secondly, our program structure has been modified. In our first year we just selected photographers that we knew ourselves. In the second year we started dividing the program per genre: photography, design, illustration. From the fourth edition and on we structure our program by genre and by topics. This time, for example, it is dedicated to the concept of home. 

And this year you also start with a new photobook award “La Lata”. There seems to be a photobook boom nowadays. Why did you decide to focus on photobooks too? 

Absolutely no idea why (laughs)! Yes, there is a boom and it is our reflection and a natural response to a global trend. 

Review and sampling of photobooks

Photobooks are a reaction to an exaggerated amount of images in our computer. But if we create too many photobooks, there will be another abundance soon... 

But in our case the idea is distinct – we want to guide an author through the whole process of editing and publishing.  To make your own photobook is a big economical challenge for the creatives in Lanzarote.

What is the most difficult thing about organizing an event like “29 13”? 

To know that you are doing it well and not to get lost in conceptualization. The recipe is to constantly rethink everything. We always argue about the time of videos when editing them: what to leave and what to cut. At such moments you should pace yourself and reflect.

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Is there any advantage in doing such events in a small place, like Lanzarote?

The good thing is this intimacy we have on a small island which you never have in huge cities. But economically it is difficult to develop projects here.

Do you want to expand your event?

This is exactly the debate we have every year with our team. By now the answer is no. Last year we had an audience of 250 people. It is already a lot for this type of event actually! The idea is to do a master-class or a presentation and that afterwards we all could go down to the bar and network. We want to maintain a sense of proximity and grow the community in an organic way. We do not search for macro-events. 

Special guest Richard Billingham during his presentation

But we always invite speakers from other cities and countries. Actually, 80% of our festival presenters are from the outside of the Canary Islands. This is good for us – so they also know what is going on here on Lanzarote!

Are you from Lanzarote?

I am from Uruguay, but I have been living here since I was 27.

There seems to be some magic in Lanzarote. Many creative people from around the world live here and many locals, even if they go away, come back. The first example in my mind is Cézar Manrique.  Why do you think it happens?

They might miss the local lifestyle and also want to contribute to it. Besides, Lanzarote is a unique island, where the artist managed to interfere in so many fields and had a colossal power! I do not know any  other artist who was able to change a place as much as Manrique did.

Besides being a director of “29 13”, you are a professional photographer, winner of various photo contests and manager of the photo studio “Bruto” in Lanzarote… Where do you get your energy from? 

It is just in my temperament – I have been always organizing events since school. 

What inspires you? 

I get inspiration from three fields: my work (I am lucky to do what I like), my family (here I include my woman, my son and also my friends) and culture. And the mission of culture for me is not in saving the world but in making people think and ask questions. 

What are some of your favourite modern photographers and artists?

Juan Brenner - there is something peculiar in his photo series of Guatemala. By the way, he is also our guest at “29-13” this year! I also like Daniel Jordán, he is a modern artist from Lanzarote.

What would your advice to young photographers be? 

To work hard! Also to stop checking Instagram constantly and start working with other people! You can live out of photography, but not out of account by only following stuff online!

Full Gallery 29ºN 13ºW Festival 2022 Edition

Text by Elena Isaeva

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