Fotograf Magazine

9th International Festival of Photography in Łódz

Perhaps none of the previous years of the Łódz festival had such a strong, high- quality and compact exhibit programme like this yearʼs did. It ran throughout May in a gigantic, industrial space, a former textile factory, and in many museums, galleries and cafés in the centre of Polandʼs second-largest city. Its organisers, led by director, Krzysztof Candrowicz, placed primary focus this year on the frequent theme: love. However, they showed this theme as exceptionally broad and multi-layered, distant from common romantic stereotypes.

Candrowicz together with two foreign curators, Peggy Sue Amison from Ireland and Christoph Tannert from Germany, selected mainly exhibitions of modern documentaries and portrait photography, whose authors often displayed photos of themselves and their relationships to people close to them. However, they did include in the main programme several exhibits of arranged (staged), conceptual and computer-manipulated photos. Only a smaller portion of the works culminated in clear optimism. Among these were, for example, simply-composed, but visually very moving, photographs of seemingly banal moments from the life of a middle-class family from the USA. American, Doug DuBois, created this after twenty years of photographing his parents and siblings. His compatriot, Lydia Panas, presented exceptionally suggestive family portraits taken in nature. Dutchman, Alex ten Napel, created effective, but somewhat superficial, portraits of men of many races and nationalities in the style of classic Madonnas. The men hold small children in their arms while they stand waist-deep in water, which was not only a moving compositional element, but also a symbol of cleanliness and unity with nature.

On the contrary, a number of exhibitions very openly portrayed marital crises, difficult relationships between parents and children, painful problems, loneliness, sadness. The well-known New York photographer of Israeli origin, Elinor Carruci, showed both gentle, colour photos of love for her husband as well as the gradual decline of their marriage and then the renewal of their relationship. Spaniard, Yolanda del Almo, also addressed the issue of partnership crises. Of course her staged photos of solitary couples came across as very affected. A small ray of hope appeared in the raw, black-and-white photos by Polish photographer, Marcin Sudziński. After twenty years of separation he sought out his father, who lived as jobless alcoholic. During the next three years he photographed the tragedy of his fatherʼs life, which ended in illness. Nor did twenty-two-year-old Slovak, Lucia Stráňaiová, get lost among the main festival participants. She subtly displayed the old bodies of her own great-grandparents. The collection of Frenchman, Philippe Toledano, ranked among the strongest parts of the festival. Over a three-year period he documented his father, who was suffering from Alzheimerʼs disease and who increasingly became more detached from reality. Toledanoʼs gentle photos in pastel colours were full of sadness, pain and a sonʼs love. The static portraits by Verena Jaekel, capturing families made up of two men or two women, stood apart from the many different photos of traditional family values. The second part of the festival consisted of ten exhibits by artists selected from among five-hundred competitors for the Sandisk Grand Prize. Even among these one could find expositions on the topic of love. German, Katrin Trautner, showed that erotica and sex can exist even in old age in her, at first glance nudist, but in reality very sensitive and artistically-powerful photos from the series, Early Love. She won the Grand Prize. The self-contemplating series by her compatriot, Fred Huening, combining the image of the artistʼs love for his wife and child with fragments from nature, animals and town scenery, also drew interest.

No less powerful was the collection by Danish artist, Ditte Haarløv Johnsen, on the life of homosexuals and transsexuals in Mozambiqueʼs Maputo. In her original exhibition, combining photography and video, the artist, who spent a number of years in Mozambique, also showed a more mundane look at contemporary life in Africa, where love and death often intersect. Certainly the conservative segment of the Polish public could not have been enthused by some of her explicit sexual shots – sometimes bordering on pornography – shown during the period prior to the presidential elections.

At the Grand Prize exhibit there were also a number of other strong works. Pole, Lukasz Skapski, drew on the now legendary series, Sociological Record, by Zofia Rydet. In similar environments in the living rooms of simple village homes, with centralised composition and the portrait subjects looking directly into the photo lens, yet incomparably better both colour-wise and technically, he created portraits of current residents of rural Poland. The sadness of people lost in crowds in Swedish, Danish and Polish cities dominated the expressive black- and-white photos by Swede, Martin Borgren. The Czech artistic duo, Juliana Křížová and Jakub Vlček, combined symbolic content with image refinement and artisanal perfection in their series, Transcendence.

Whereas the greatest amount of attention during the first years of the Lodz festival was paid to confrontations between various photography schools, this year only one of the main sections was devoted to student photography. Whatʼs more, representation of foreign schools was much smaller. Polish schools dominated, and they showed a marked departure from conceptual and inter- media creations. This time Czech schools were represented only by the Institute for Creative Photography of the Silesian University in Opava. It presented the imaginary childrenʼs portraits of celebrities from the series, Replacements, by Barbora Žůrková and Radim Žůrek and the raw photographs of women in Polish mines by Arkadiusz Gola.

A showing of contemporary Polish fashion photography took place outside the main programme along with a number of individual exhibits, including, for example, portraits of important Poles by Krzysztof Gieraltowski or qualitatively diverse collages by Zofia Rydet. Even though the Łódz organisers had at their disposal only a fragment of the resources that their colleagues from Arles did, they succeeded in creating an excellent exhibit programme, which with its quality and innovativeness definitely did not lag far behind the Arles festival.

Vladimír Birgus