Fotograf Magazine

“Great Hope” – Krakow Month of Photography

Polandʼs offering of spring festivals is every year truly varied. Even though this yearʼs main days of the 6th Warsaw Festival of Art Photography was impacted by the State mourning after the government plane crashed near Smolensk, two days later – one right after the other – photographic shows were launched in Lodz and Krakow. This year Warsawʼs exhibit spaces offered mainly the works of the younger generation of German and Polish artists. One of the main exhibits was the curatorial, somewhat haphazard, observation of the sentimental tendency in contemporary German photography, where – from among the better-known artists – Wolfgang Zurbor was represented. But one could also see the independent exhibits of classic Polish photography by Hieronim Neumann, Piotr Wołýnski and Bogdan Konopka. There was also a show of contemporary young Slovak photographers and the exhibit, Nový život / Nový dokument (New Life / New Documentary) by artists from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. This exhibit had also been presented last year at the Prague Biennale.

The festival in Lodz, after last yearʼs exhibit of Chinese photography, put aside its geographic limitations, and in its main programme entitled All my lovinʼ focused on mapping attractive themes from the various positions of love through examples from artists of the younger and middle generations; some of whom are already well established at global shows. Contrary to this Krakow, mainly in contrast to its attempt last year to introduce Czech photography alongside its archive theme, this year bet on a sure thing and its organizers focused on proven British photography.

Krakowʼs Month of Photography does not have a very long history, but still in its eighth year itʼs Poland oldest festival. In contrast with industrial Lodz, where in the townʼs centre you will find a number of brick factories from the 19th century, either falling apart or which have recently been conspicuously reconstructed in a historical fashion, the Krakow Festival lacked for a long time respectable and large spaces. Gradually though it moved from exhibits in cafés or rented flats to spaces in expressive private galleries and the official expansive space of the National Museum or the Sztuka Bunker.

In accordance with the theme it filled these spaces with the most attractive material associated with British photography: the organisers designed the festival as a showing of the rich tradition of British documentaries. In the Starmach Gallery the “father of contemporary tendencies”, Tony Ray-Jones, was presented in an independent retrospective. At the end of the 1960s, after finishing studies in the USA, he brought to Britain ideas from the New York School of photography and he tied this trend to ironic detachment. His photographic research on specific English morals and his book, A Day Off, published in 1974, inspired a number of artists, of which ten were introduced in the exhibit at the National Museum entitled, Facts of Life, Photography in Britain 1974–1997. The curator, Katy Barron, presented here a pleiad of approaches by both the older and middle generations of proven artists from Chris Killip, John Davies, Paul Graham and Jem Southam to Martin Parr and Anna Fox. They are bound by a perception of Britain as the “edge of the earth” and a search for things specifically “British.” Additionally they can be characterised by work with new visual colour syntax and disillusion with traditional documentary (approaches). They abdicated from simple and clear expression and sometimes also built on new topography. The documentary and fashion photography from some of them inspired the creation of the cult magazines, I.D. and The Face, in the 1980s.

The selection of mentioned artists also partially intersected with the exhibit, Nothinʼ is in the Place, in Krakowʼs Sztuka Bunker. This exhibit anonymously presented 32 artists of the middle and younger generations through standardised reproductions. Thus the specificity of individual artists was lost. General “imaging” and the proximity of themes shown through. In this pleiad the photos of Martin Parr, Nick Knight, Mark Power, Jack Webb and Tom Wood along with the raw photography of Wolfgang Tillmans – who is often ranked in the generation that came onto the global scene in the first half of the 1990s under the brand, Young British Artists (YBA) – all faded away.

One floor up in several rooms an independent exhibit presented several projects involving the raw and often staged photography of Anna Fox. This included her most recent work, Back to the Village, inspired by the work of Benjamin Son, who documented rural life around 1900. Another separate exhibit presented the Polish album of Mark Power, a member of the Magnum Agency, who has lived partly in Poland for several years. Last but not least the festival organisers attempted to diagnose the contemporary British scene through the project, Aktualizacja/ With the help of questionnaires, sent to ten British curators and photographers, they selected 24 artists or anonymous persons publishing their photos on the internet.

In Krakow they also presented artists, already firmly belonging to the global context of photography, in (other) various contexts. Despite the fact that in past years they have also significantly influenced the Czech scene, Czech exhibiting institutions have not paid an appropriate amount of attention to these artists. They were only shown, at least two decades, ago in an exhibit put together by the British Council called Documentary Dilemmas, Aspects of British Documentary Photography 1983–1993. It took place in the exhibit hall at the Úluv Gallery in Prague and was again show at the Gallery of Modern Art in Hradec Králové and the Brno House of Arts in 1994. Richard Billingham was the only artist to have an independent exhibit at the Brno House of Arts.

Tomáš Pospěch