Fotograf Magazine

Month of Photography, Minsk

Tours for the Blind, or Yuri Vasiliev Eaten in Minsk

The history and origins of the Month of Photography in Minsk are simple and at the same time impressive. One very renowned, very professional and very much in demand (in the West, as they like to say in Belarus) photographer decided that in fact there were just as many professional and in demand people in the East as there are in the West. But those who would get down to it and put together a cool international festival in Minsk are a rare breed indeed – and such an undertaking has brighter prospects and is so much more fun. This was in 2014, and our hero decided to go about it the time-honored way – to surround himself with such people, inspired and supported as he was by a burning feminine heart equipped with outstanding organizational skills. The young woman in question was a student and a colleague—a potent and explosive alloy, charged with faith, tenacity and creativity—in amounts that proved sufficient to bring the venture off.

Andrei Liankevich, for it was him, along with Svetlana Katsubo, set out to organize a festival with nothing but a wish to make it happen. They approached the Polish Institute, the Goethe Institute, and some other center or foundation, saying – look, listen, wouldn’t this be an amazing exhibition, why don’t you help us bring it over? And they were heard and they were helped. People materialized from who knows where, in increasing numbers, able and willing to lend a hand, take things upon their shoulders, bring, fetch, help, support. This is how the festival crew formed.

The standards were high right from the beginning: the very first festival was impressive with its extensive and diverse program, with a large number of exhibitions held in all manner of venues, lectures by illustrious photographers and intellec-tuals, both domestic and international guests, presentations and showings of multi-media projects. The festival had an edu-cational mission – recourse into history and the rediscovery of forgotten figures featured alongside the development of a new visual experience and the cultivation of the visual taste of the public. And so at last, Belarus, which year in, year out strives to prove that is a part of Europe, has now already for the 6th time a more-than European-level festival, and at the same time a festival oriented towards local audiences, and the discovery of local figures – names either yet-undiscovered or semi-forgotten. The felicitous ease of the situation lies in the fact that this rather gigantic and multi-faceted project operates with no budget and no central financing, which gives it total freedom and endless possible directions for development. For the realization of each separate exhibition project, the organizers seek a concrete partner – an institution or a commercial venture. In this way, without burdening their life with unfulfilled promises to tremulous artists, the organizers follow the calling of their hearts. Under the circumstances, the calling of the heart as a rule sounds highly persuasive to the masters of the giving hand. And the puzzle somehow comes together, although at the beginning nobody yet knows what the picture will be at the end. Still, everyone believes that it will be a masterpiece, and they are later proven right.

The selected themes are naturally of social or historical significance, expressed across a wide variety of aesthetic approaches – from the most exquisitely sophisticated to the brutally direct. This sometimes takes in altogether unusual directions, going against the received notions of photogra-phy in general and of the exhibition in particular. Thus in 2019, one of the curators was Natalya Kovalevich, who, being blind, developed a special tour for the blind, where the works in the central exhibition were made accessible via sounds and smells. The perfumer, Ksenia Filippova offered the possibility to visitors who desired to have their eyes blinkered in order to experience the exhibition as a blind person would.

One of the semi-forgotten names which continues to be explored every year is that of Yuri Vasiliev, the legendary founder of the Minsk Photo-Club, which brought together the best photographers of the 1970s and 1980s and thanks to which amateur photography ceased to be perceived as something superficial and outside of the domain of art, and instead won due recognition, with the discovery of a number of new names. The tradition of holding extensive photography festivals such as the Month of Photography was in fact established by no other than Yuri Vasiliev and the Photo-Club of Minsk, which over a period of 11 years succeeded in holding a photography biennial which drew photographers from the entire former Soviet Union. It is thus no accident that the festival chose a work by Yuri Vasiliev to be one of it’s most iconic images, and moreover, one which was reproduced even in the medium of a cake offered to guests attending the official opening ceremony of the festival. “We are the followers of your work, a tradition started by you, your origins, and we are so dedicated to those, so at one with them, that we are ready to eat them!” Well, the instilling of tastes to Minsk and Belarusian public has never tasted better. It is thus with impatience that one should anticipate the next edition, apply for funding and plan a trip to Minsk come next fall.


Alena Boika