The OFFF Festival, held last week in Lisbon, Portugal, has to be one of the most visually stimulating places I’ve ever been. Herds of bright-faced, young, handsome European artist boys and girls pack by the thousands into an old steel mill. In a cavernous, resonant concrete bunker, the echo of excited chatter never really stops. Instead, to be noticed, presenters have to create visual flash – visual demos here are everything. It almost seems like it shouldn’t work. I notice a few bloggers complained about sometimes-disorganized presentations, the difficulty in hearing (tough for me, and the presentations were in my native language), and the general mayhem. But somehow, it’s the experience of the thing, the fact that presenters have to singe their ideas on optic nerves, that brings it all together.

Lisbon itself is stunning, too – perhaps not the flashiest of European towns, but in its blend of layers of North African, Moorish, Catholic, Latin, it blends into something special that seems to transcend everything around you. It’s never a cliché.

Given all this optical richness and the assembled lenses of some of the best designers in the world, it’s no surprise that Flickr was just overloaded with spectacular images of faces, scenery, and creations from the conference. The conference catalog seems itself like it came from another age: Flickr is the real catalog now. (See the OFFF tag above. If you find some particular gems, please call out your favorite OFFF photographers in comments.)

Oh, yeah … uh … I also took some kinda lo-fi snapshots.(Nope, not a photographer.)

Let’s draw more: a new rallying cry?

But one of my favorite moments of the whole weekend was watching a who’s-who of digital designers pick up Sharpies and sign the back of OFFF chief curator Hector Ayuso’s laptop. This is great on a number of levels. For one, getting to deface Apple’s pure minimalist design is deeply satisfying. And there’s something terrific about overlaying a digital design object with that old standby of creation, the Sharpie marker. But mostly, it was seeing these folks draw. I hope onstage doodling could be mandatory for next year’s conference.

I discovered my own self-image is as a duck creature. Aaron Koblin, appropriately, drew a picture of a sheep.

More photos, which as I look back at them do oddly seem to represent my own memory of what I was looking at, whether or not they’re interesting to anyone else.

Seriously, anyone who comes across especially fantastic photos or video, send them our way! I haven’t had time to dig through Vimeo and Flickr since returning, and already what I saw was, I thought, oddly beautiful even if you weren’t there. (I think some people are good enough photographers that they live in a more beautiful version of reality.)

Lastly, a montage that has been circulating on Vimeo (I know nothing about the person who created it, but it’s quite nice).

OFFF 2009 oeiras from Bart Kiggen on Vimeo.