Fotograf Magazine

Funke’s Kolín 2007: Family

This year of Funke’s Kolín looked at the familiar topic of “family”. It is a strong topic – broad and general and one which fundamentally affects every person. We all define ourselves positively or negatively in relation to our family, enter into standard or non-standard relationships, suffer when we miss it, try or refuse to link our life to those of others. Family is also traditionally one of the main themes of photography, in particular amateur photography, since positive emotions are undoubtedly the strongest reason why people take pictures.

The concept of genre photographs or snapshots goes hand in hand with this definition. At this year’s Funke’s Kolín, visitors could encounter a broad range of methods through which the participating photographers attempted to approach the topic. In accordance with the current wave of interest in amateur photography, several of them worked through collections of found photographs – intimate, anonymous snapshots of past moments experienced by unknown people and taken by anonymous photographers (Dušan Skala, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Kateřina Držková and Daniela Matějková, Ágnes Eperjesi). For many years now, photographic artists around the world have been fascinated by the world outside art, by the natural world. Old film and photographs offer a visual quality anchored in a different time, providing a nostalgia for the lost intensity of the past present. Artists use this documentary material for newly structured works in which they manipulate the found material, suppress the original specific intimacy of family photographs and shift their meaning onto a more general plane – offering a witness of society, a specific time, the phenomenon of emotions, memory.

Besides presenting “ready-made” documentary works, several artists presented their own photographs in Kolín. Some could already be seen this year at, for instance, Karlín’s Praguebiennale3, while others I was not familiar with. In these works, the photographers offered viewers several current approaches – some worked through quasi-amateur reportage documentary capturing reality in fleeting sequences (Martin Voříšek, Filip Hladký), while others associated the topic of family with complicated direction and arrangement, sometimes adding sound and projection or sociological research and its photographic documentation (Dita Pepe, Gabriela Kontra and Jana Štěpánová, Sylva Francová, Milena Dopitová). Each concept’s written commentary is an important part of the project, whose double meaning hovers on the boundary between artistic testimony and social investigation.

The charm of Funke’s Kolín rests in, among other things, the broad scale of forms of expression chosen by the represented artists and in the equal opportunity afforded them by this event. For example, none of the exhibition spaces can be clearly labelled better or worse than the others. The curators (almost all of whom happen to be women) diligently seek out a suitable environment for each work from the very beginning, one which provides the optimum conditions for the viewer’s communication with the work in question. Another pleasant tradition is the fact that, with each new year, viewers can visit not only their favourite places, but also can discover new, previously unfamiliar interiors and even come across photographs in the town’s exterior. One such surprise this year was the old school by Kolín’s cathedral. Anetta Mona Chişa’s suggestive video “Planet Romance”, located adjacent to the renovated study and library of Kolín poet, journalist and politician Josef Svatopluk Machar, was one notable station on audiences’ photographic pilgrimage through Kolín. At the same time, the sense of being on a pilgrimage through this beautiful old town, which is an inseparable part of the project, reminds one of conspirational events from the communism era.

Every year, Funke’s Kolín includes an exhibition by a modern Czech photographer whose work is somehow associated with Kolín. This year, that photographer was Funke’s teacher and friend Eugen Wiškovský, who spent several years at the town’s grammar school and also photographed locally. Wiškovský is still not as well known as other members of the Czech photographic avant-garde, but his exhibition of original prints convincingly showed that many of his works from the late 1920s – not only classic works such as Měsíční krajina (Moonscape) and Katastrofa (Catastrophe) – are clearly a part of the progressive heritage of Czech photography.
The seventh Funke’s Kolín was again prepared with great personal engagement on the part of the organizers. Also worth acknowledging is the fact that a well-designed Czech-English catalogue was available on opening day. In addition to images and interpretative texts from all the curators – Vladimír Birgus, Jolana Havelková, Naďa Kováříková and Helena Musilová – which place the project into the proper art historical context, it also includes two essays by outsiders.. In these texts, Martina Pachmanová and Jiřina Šiklová look at the topic of family from the personal, theoretical and sociological viewpoint and, in the spirit of the exhibition organizers’ intentions, give it a broad, topical, matter-of-fact and human meaning. It is thus a shame that this event – although of course one aspect of its existence is the fact that it takes place “outside” the centre – does not have greater publicity. The project’s quality merits that is should be known by more than a stable and, in my view, slightly depleted circle of insiders – it deserves to attract other viewers. Photography today has this potential.

Marie Klimešová