Fotograf Magazine

Fourth Photo Biennale in Moscow

The main themes of this year’s 4th International Month of Photography – Photo Biennale 2002 in Moscow were ‘the body and motion’, ‘children and childhood’ and ‘landscape’. Landscape photography was presented mainly in a number of exhibitions in the Circus, near the Kremlin, and in a large exposition in the New Circus. The latter presented works from the French National Fund of Contemporary Art by Alain Fleischer, Josef Koudelka and other famous artists. Traditional Russian landscape photography was represented by several exhibitions of Pictorialists from the early 20th century, as well as by rather anachronistic works by contemporary Neo-Pictorialists. The colour fragments of urban landscapes by Alexander Sljusarev were much more contemporary, as were the inventive photographs of artificial alterations of the landscape by the Russian representative of land art, Francisco Infante. Czech photography in the Circus was represented by Pavel Baňka, with selections from his cycle Infinity. Slovak work was  represented by Pavel Pecha, with arranged scenes in landscapes from the collection My Intuitive Theatre.

Of the 170 expositions, the exhibitions on the motif of the body, located in the Circus and in the nearby Moscow House of Photography, naturally enjoyed the greatest viewer interest. Many famous photographers were represented in the exhibition The Body as Model, presenting a selection from the collection of the European House of Photography in Paris. This exhibition offered different perspectives on the body, from the provocative shots of Pierre Molinier to the giant details of his own ageing body by John Coplans and the almost acrobatic shots of Arno Rafael Minkkinen. The exhibition drawn from the collections of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, entitled Masks, gave viewers an opportunity to see a number of works by the world-famous photographers Man Ray, Diane Arbus, Joel-Peter Witkin, Robert Heinecken and others. In some cases, works that were totally unknown were exhibited; for example, Rodchenko’s thus far unpublished nudes and some shots of dance and sport by Soviet photographers from the 1920s from the collection of the Russian Deputy of the Minister of Culture Pavel Choroshilov. The exposition The Nude in Czech Photography 1960-2000 presented the most important trends, personalities and works concentrating on the nude over the last forty years. In addition to works by internationally renowned photographers such as Jan Saudek, Vladimír Židlický, Ivan Pinkava, Michal Macků, Pavel Mára and Tono Stano, one could also see works by more obscure artists of all generations. Stano’s photograph Sense was even chosen for the official poster of the biennale. The quality of the expositions of contemporary Russian photographers varied considerably. Of these, the more recent work by Oleg Kulik was interesting; in it, he and his partner appear as Adam and Eve in the reflections of display cases with stuffed animals in a natural science museum.

There were also great differences in quality in the exhibitions on the theme of childhood. One of the  better ones was the exhibition assembled from photographs on the motif of motherhood and childhood by Robert Doisneau, Pierre and Gilles, Andres Serrano, Adam Fuss, Seyda Keita and other artists represented in the French National Fund of Contemporary Art. Also striking was the exposition of imaginative and witty composed photographs by Bernard Faucon from the cycle Summer Camp. In the project The Happiest Day of My Life, organised by Faucon as well, young teenagers from all over the world were given simple cameras for a day; with these they created a number of powerful photographs. The festival programme included the now traditional international theoretical symposium. The overall quality of the Photo Biennale would benefit from stricter standards in the selection of exhibitions and from the inclusion of a larger number of foreign expositions in addition to those of France. None the less, it is clear that the founder and director of the Moscow Month of Photography, Olga Sviblovová, and her colleagues were able to build up a festival of international importance.

Vladimír Birgus