Here be Dragons | UrbanPhotoFestival Masterclass review


UrbanPhotoFest has come to a close for another year. The enthusiasm and attendance which we witnessed from the events visited reflects the increasing interest we feel is happening within the industry. While the mobile technology revolution has certainly opened gateways and brought a rush of new participants looking to create personal work and make connections with audiences through photography like never before, festivals and sites like continue to break boundaries by democratising the practice and access for making. And one thing continues to remain constant – the desire to learn how to tell better stories, and through the story connect not only through the virtual world but through a physical one as well.

We were proud and honoured to be asked to host the Masterclass for our second year with UPF. Our masterclasses are kept small – maximum of 8 attend – so an intimacy and focus remains between presenter and participants. The weekend is an immersive one, gambling on the investment in time and commitment the participants will give. The gamble is nothing short of inspiring. The degree of openness and readiness to discover has rewarded all of us moving under the guide of our presenter.


This year Francesca Catastini took the group down paths which included, but were not limited to, collection, discovery, disruption,  research, luck and consciousness. At first it appeared an incredible feat lay ahead – to sift through the elements of the city and isolate a heartbeat to which they could give a home to in the form of the personal project. But Ms. Catastini’s organic approach quickly shifted the momentum into one of excitement and adventure.

Her approach which lead to her “The Modern Spirit is Vivisective” winning the Vienna Photobook award was after all a three year pursuit. Her slow, organic and yet methodical (dare I say ‘forensic’ if you will excuse the pun) approach to photography fuses into a natural form, building a solid and cohesive visual language. Time gave her the ability to flesh out a clear and effective tone to her narrative.

Given our group only had a weekend the odds would seem they were against them but Masterclasses have a magic built within so they were not to be disappointed.


It turns out that Here be Dragons was as much about the internal cartography of the self as it was about the lines shaping maps of the city.  As we explored cityscapes we explored ‘dragons’ which lay in our personal mind, spirit and emotional maps – signs which warned us to keep within parameters we have grown accustomed to. Dragons sketched in the strange lands and waters of each of our own maps, warning us to not voyage any further for fear of where this may lead – lines mapping borders of each of our mind’s eye.

Ms. Catastini clearly introduced ways in which she slays her own dragons to take her deeper into the interior of her mind – a theme echoed in Roger Ballen’s UPF presentation opener at Tate Britain. From photographing her own nude on a vivisective table to collecting dead animals and housing them in pretty boxes, these are voyages beyond the comfortable along her own internal cartography.


The weekend was an overall success with the takeaways encouraging awareness of the labour intensive nature of pursuing the personal project. It can be a birthing process with much pain and joy. Also, we should look at photography as not the only method to creating one’s visual statement. If we take a helicopter view of our collected research, including our imagery, we may be surprised to see the evolution of our own unique language. Our ‘work in progress’ may be speaking to us in ways which take us beyond what we are accustomed to through looking at images only.  Listen for the clues in the research which may be leaving a natural imprint – taking us beyond our boundaries and extending our map of discovery. It is here that the personal project lies.

For our ongoing creative and practical course updates, one-to-one mentoring and future Masterclasses please visit our course list.

Francesca Catastini will be joining us in the 2018 as part of our summer visiting artists program in Cornwall so follow @themangolab on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for updates.