Fotograf Magazine

Fotofestival Zingst

The eight edition of the Horizonte Zingst, a photo festival focused on the topic of the environment, was held this spring. The ten-day event took place in the beautiful surroundings of Zingst, a seaside spa town located in the northern part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. In addition to photographic exhibitions, the festival offered thematic workshops, screenings, and photo competitions. Each day ended with a summary of that day’s events, presented in the form of a large-screen projection set against a backdrop of romantic seaside scenery reminiscent of the paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. As a matter of interest, this artist was born in the nearby city of Greifswald.

I set out for Zingst with a certain level of cynicism, as similar events often prefer to present photography as an isolated cliché-filled medium. Frequently, rather than emphasising ideological strategies, they focus on formal perfection, thus bringing authenticity into conflict with the means of using photographs as such. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the Horizonte Zingst festival. The combination of the location with the diversity of the exhibits swept away my concerns. The workshops and competitions for best photos created a marvellous atmosphere and introduced an enjoyably refreshing element for photography fans. There were a number of very interesting exhibitions.

Definitely worth mentioning is Exodus – Menschen an der Flucht (Exodus – People in Flight), a documentary project by Nikos Pilos, organised in collaboration with the Stern magazine. In it Pilos documents the life and journey of refugees travelling from Greece, through Macedonia, to the Hungarian border. Installed in the completely devastated space of the abandoned Marinecomplex building, the project was vastly different from the other, positively focused exhibitions. Seeping water and the smell of mouldy rotting floors underline the dismal atmosphere of the photographs. The black and white images, often capturing dire events, not only depict specific situations, but they also combine emotional strength with visual aspects to form metaphoric expressions. The simple black and white video documentation at the exhibition also comes across as very authentic.

The exhibition Young Professionals – Die neue Farbigkeit des Sehens (Young Professionals – The New Colourfulness of Vision), organised by the Greifswald-based STP gallery was very refreshing. This was the ninth year of this project in which the students from three photography schools take pictures in Zingst and the surrounding area based on pre-announced themes. This year’s participating schools were: the Austrian Federal Education and Research Institute for Graphics (Höhere Graphische Bundes-Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt) in Vienna, the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art of the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, and the Lette Verein Vocational Training Centre (Berufsausbildung am Lette Verein) in Berlin. Whilst the schools from Vienna and Berlin are amongst the oldest photographic institutions in the world, the university faculty in Pilsen is a young, dynamically developing school. Their different approaches can be seen in the approach to the theme itself. For instance, the Viennese school has expanded the means of expression to include a performance element, but the students from Pilsen use modern technology to create photographic collages expressing today’s post-internet experience as regards the perception of photographs. The Berlin-based school also relativises the traditional photographic space and enhances it with, for example, a strategy aimed at a three-dimensional object. The Panzerhalle industrial premises, where the exhibition has been sited, is the ideal location for presenting the creative approaches used at all three of the participating schools. This project that brings together these schools not only enriches the students, but it may also provide an indication of the possible direction of current photography.

At the other end of the spectrum of photographic approaches are the documentary photos from space, which were taken two years ago by the German astronaut and geophysicist Alexander Gerst during his almost two-month-long mission in space. His project, presented in cooperation with GEO Magazine, shows the breadth of present-day photography. The fascinating images presented as large-format panels in an open-air park environment draw attention to the beauty and fragility of our planet. But this kind of otherness may also be evoked by more conceptual approaches, like the photographs of the planet Earth from the late 60s, symbolising a new epoch connected with a global impact on the ecosystem – the Anthropocene. Perhaps, though, the selection of Gerst’s photographs is too focused on aesthetically effective photos that match the festival’s atmosphere.

Another exhibition presented in a public space was Architektier
– Baumeister der natur (Animal Architecture – Nature’s Master Builders), also organised by GEO Magazine. This exhibition excels thanks to its purity and the magnificent shots. Ingo Arndt shows the exceptional architecture of constructions, and in some of the images we even see the animals or insects who are the builders of these perfect structures.

Just a diverse range of structures were portrayed in Michael Martin’s project Planet Wüste (Desert Planet). For instance, a photo of Semerq Kujalleq – one of the world’s fastest moving and also most rapidly thawing glaciers located near the Ilulissat Icefjord – captures its surface structure set against a backdrop of a star-filled night sky. It is very hard to determine the scale of this photo, which call to mind photos taken from space. The way the photos in this exhibition are presented as large format panels next to the sea serves only to enhance them.

Of the great number of photographs closely associated with the festival’s theme, I should also like to mention the project Grey Matters, exhibited in the imposing premises of the Max Hünten Haus. Tom Jacobi, who was the art director for Stern magazine for a number of years, is continuing to perfect his experience with visual stylisation. The landscape shots he took during his travels are stylised into black and white structures; motion and stillness work together to create an unusually harmonic whole. However, an overly aestheticising concept rather moves this project towards the outer edge of current events.

One of the festival’s most important events is the exhibition prepared by the guest country. This year, Austria presented itself through a cross-section of contemporary photography. The large-format prints of Horst Stasny’s nudes are rather unfortunately mixed in with the rest of the exhibition in the impressive space of the Kunsthallenhotel. Whilst the large-format 3D prints, thanks to the transparent nature of the background material, fit in perfectly with the hotel’s interior (although maybe it was not even planned), the other photographs, which were adjusted using traditional methods, come across as inconsistent when placed next to the large-format prints. It is a pity, because the exhibited projects are an excellent insight into present-day Austrian society.

The Zingst Photo Festival demonstrates how photography can be naturally intertwined with the topic of the environment. The festival space is ideal, making it possible to experience an inimitable atmosphere amongst photographs and beautiful nature, and, at the same time providing sufficient new stimuli for discerning viewers

Štěpán Grygar