Fotograf Magazine

10th International Festival of Photography in Łódź

Those expecting that the jubilee 10th annual International Festival of Photography in Łódź would be even larger and more attractive than last year’s exceptionally successful festival must have come away a bit disappointed. The departure of several traditional sponsors and reconstruction of the gigantic Łódź Art Centre, where most exhibitions had previously taken place, led organizers to consider cancelling this year’s festival. Luckily, a generous sponsor emerged, the Korean company Samsung, and the festival took place in May in new areas of the Grohman Villa (unoccupied for years), in various schools and several galleries, museums, clubs and shops around the city. The limited budget was most evident in the presentation of participants in the competition for the main festival prize. While last year their work formed one of the most important and extensive parts of the festival, this year the works of eleven finalists, chosen from 550 entered contestants, were simply screened in the garden of the Grohman Villa, thus attracting marginal visitor attention.

The event featured two central exhibits entitled Out of Life and Out of Mind. The former, elaborated by festival director Krzysztof Candrowicz and Greek curator Nina Kassiana, focused on creating alternative realities, on the boundaries that man creates between reality and that which is formed artificially. At first glance, it may seem that such a theme would be presented in staged photographs, like for instance the ghostly, melancholy scenes with figures in the countryside by Dutch artist Ellen Koii, loosely inspired by the panoply of paintings by Friedrich or Hopper. The topic of solitude along with motives of sex and violence played the crucial role in the staged scenes from the series, Saturday Night, taking place in the rooms of some hotel. In them, their Korean author In Sook Kim injected inspiration from printed articles, and with the help of showy lighting and stylized colours, she created highly powerful images. Of course, in reality, authentic or slightly computer-enhanced images dominated the exhibition. These included a group of eerily expressive portraits of people crossing one of the busiest crosswalks in the world in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. With an impressive darkened backdrop, their author Kai-Uwe Gundlach accented typical Japanese discipline and loss of individuality amongst the people in the crowd. The exposition that formed the apex of the festival also included several sociologically focused works. The young American, Michael Cevoli, created illustratively strong and significantly detailed images of Blackstone River Valley. Though it is a birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, today it bears the scars of the economic crisis. Russian Daria Tuminas showed with great empathy the small joys and worries of the lives of two young brothers in an isolated village in northern Russia. Polish national Bownik then introduced large-format portraits of athletes, whose static concept, direct looks into the camera, image composition and neutral background in no way deny the influence of the works of Richard Avedon, with the images of the rooms where they train. The exhibition Out of Life as a whole appeared compact, refreshing and contemporary, similarly to last year’s exhibition based on the theme of Love.

The second main exhibition, Out of Mind, sparked less enthusiasm. Its theme was a bit vaguely defined by the words obsession, illusion and fantasy; a change in the way we perceive ourselves. The curator of this exhibition – American director of Fotogalerie Forum in Frankfurt am Main, Celina Lunsford – selected widely varying works in terms of themes, style and quality. First there were fragments of the human body in Finnish photographer Minkkinnen’s self-portraits, then there were superficially impressive, computer- enhanced photographs by Erwin Olaf from the milieu of a luxurious Russian hotel. In them, this Dutch author returned to the most kitsch parts of his qualitatively erratic creation. There were a number of works in this exposition exploiting pop culture and using computers to create a nonexistent world.

Also seeming out of balance this year was the review of schools of photography, the Factory of Photography. Though the name remained the same, it was actually held in one of the local high schools. Presentations of Polish schools dominated, mainly the University of Arts in Poznań. Two Polish students from the Institute of Creative Photography at the Silesian University in Opava represented Czech schools. Tomasz Wiech presented a vast series of ironic views of various aspects of contemporary life in Poland, whereas Lukasz Pieńkowski exhibited contemplative details of a hermitage in which monks live absolutely detached from the surrounding world.

One of the greatest attractions of the twenty odd festival exhibitions spread out across Łódź was the exhibition of Russian photographer, Alexey Titarenko. His melancholy images of urban corners and pedestrians along the streets of St. Petersburg, Venice, Łódź and other cities were fascinating for their shocking scale of gentle shades of gray and compelling combinations of sharpness and fuzziness. They make no attempts to hide the fact that the major commercial success of their creator has lead to ever-greater sleekness and decorative qualities. The strongest images are his older works from the mid-1990s. Overdone in terms of the scope of installation, the retrospective of Zofia Rydetová in the Museum of Cinematography recalled the nearly 100th anniversary of the birth of this Polish photographer. Today, she is mainly remembered for her sociological portraits of country folk in southern Poland, but she engaged for years in the photo montage genre, influenced by surrealism, and has created a book of spontaneous images of children that remains refreshing to this day. The surprise came in the way they were assembled, which by its deliberate exploitation of kitsch seemed to anticipate the onset of postmodernism. Other popular Polish photographers, Andrzej J. Lech and Krzysztof Cichosz, had smaller exhibits here. Of course, middle-aged and young Polish artists received much greater space. This included the duo, Zuza Krajewská and Bartek Wieczork, who – aside from shooting unorthodox fashion and advertising images – also created a provocative series of photographs, which have repeatedly become the subject of intense discussions between the upholders of conservative values and liberal promoters of creative freedom. A true find was the exhibition, Power of Time, for which curators Marta Szymańska and Marek Domanski selected the most impressive images from 2,000 glass negatives by the photographer Jekimenek. They were taken for the Dalkia power plant in Łódź in 1922-1940 and include high-quality images of industrial architecture and sociological portraits.

Integral components of the festival included an evaluation of portfolios, several creative workshops and commented reviews of exhibitions. However, this year the organizers of photography festivals in Łódź, Krakow and Warsaw once again could not agree on better coordination of their respective festival dates, and their events again took place almost simultaneously. As in previous years, few photography enthusiasts visited all three festivals.

Vladimír Birgus