Fotograf Magazine

Photo zero-nine (Krakow Month of Photography and other festivals in Poland)

In comparison to other arts, photography displays a number of peculiar features. Apart being the most widely used form of reproduction, within public space as well as the private sphere, it also occupies a specific position within the province of the art world. In the last decade or two, there have emerged a large number of photography festivals, a number disproportionately larger to those dedicated to sculpture, painting, or video art. Polish photography holds a very strong position within the context of the Central European scene, and it is perhaps for this reason that the country hosts not one but several photography festivals. The Month of Photography in Krakow has now presented its seventh edition, the Lodz Festival of Photography is in its eighth year, and the Warsaw-based Festival of Art Photography is entering its third. This year, the various organizers were less then successful in terms of coordination: the main festival openings in Krakow and Lodz overlapped, as did the festival themes – Czech photography – which was identical in Krakow and the Polish capital.

While the Czech section of the Warsaw festival featured several projects undertaken by Czech curators such as Vladimír Birgus, Jan Mlčoch, Aleš Kuneš, Tomáš Pospěch and others (the exhibitions included The Nude
in Czech Photography 1960-2000, Czech Photographic Avant-garde, Young Czech Women Photographers, Photography by Students of Institute of Creative Photography, Jindřich Štreit 1965-2005, Vladimír Birgus), Krakow Photomonth presented solo exhibitions by Jiří David (Touch My Head, curated by Matin Dostál), Viktor Kolář (Ostrava, curator Tomáš Pospěch), Miroslav Tichý (Style Options, curator Pavel Vančát), and an exhibition project assembled by curator Karel Císař entitled Any Instant Whatever (featuring works by Zbyněk Baladrán, Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák, Jiří Kovanda, Ján Mančuška, Markéta Othová, Michal Pěchouček, and Václav Stratil). The list of names alone hints at the diversity of possible perspectives regarding the identity of Czech photography, and is indirectly related also to the imaginary rift within the Czech scene in terms of “photographers” and “artists who work with photography”.

Unlike Krakow, the photographic festival in Lodz focused chiefly on exhibitions dedicated to contemporary artists, and among its paramount sections was the competition – the Grand Prix. As part of an EU-supported project, the traveling exhibition Tickle Attack was presented here, with curators from Austria, Italy, Holland and Poland, the project itself focusing on themes
of irony, caricature, absurdity, and laugther in contemporary Western society. Artists featured in the exhibition include Martin Kollár, G.R.A.M. (Gunther Holler-Schuster and Martin Behr), Rafał Milach, Paula Muhr, Piero Steinle, Lilly McElroy, Andrea Stultiens, and Kateřina Držková and Barbora Kleinhamplová. The festival also featured an exhibition by the group Łódź Kaliska May Men Rot (Niech sczezną mężczyźni) – their vintage form of montage photography was dedicated to the theme of women’s chores. The exhibition Fotoplastykon addressed the issue of photography extending into other media; the rather broad definition of its theme, however, resulted in a vagueness of message, and an inconsistency of otherwise remarkable works. Hungary was the guest of honor: the three exhibitions dedicated to Hungarian photography were mostly unprofessional in nature, while there stood out to best advantage the works of , who has an individual way of photographing municipal parks. The smaller exhibitions held across the city in various other venues were of a rather uneven quality, unlike the Off Festival section in Krakow, which strives to lend
a platform to original works by younger artists. The orientation of work presented here tended rather towards advertisement and applied photography.

The organizers (Tomasz Gutkowski, Karol Hordziej, Piotr Lelek) divided
the Month of Photography in Krakow into two major themes: the processing
of memory, and Czech photography. Its first part presented classics of world photography (Weegee – a comprehensive exhibition at the Muzeum Narodowe, Arnold Odermatt – with his Karambolage exhibition, Witkacy –Psychoholizm), who in their particular angles in some ways addressed the theme of reconstructing or observing the past. In his capacity as a photojournalist of the annals of crime, Weegee’s peculiar perspective rendered him a seminal figure in the history of photography, his unflinching flash revealing the dark underside of 1930s and 1940s New York. Arnold Odermatt embarked on his professional career as a traffic cop, and over time managed to produce an extensive body of work, depicting traffic accidents in Switzerland in the period between the 1950s and the 1970s. He gradually eliminated the human element and any story
or tragedy from these incidents, leaving only the essential design of scratched and bent car bonnets against the backdrop of romantic landscape scenery.

The Krakow Festival further presented an extensive and meticulously produced exhibition titled Archivum centralne (Central Archives, curated by Karol Hordziej, Piotr Lelek, Wojtek Nowicki and Łukasz Trzciński), held on the premises of a former late 19th century factory. The exhibition primarily featured photographs from archival sources. The section Nein, Onkel, Shots from Another Front 1938- 1945 consisted of photographs of Nazi officers during their leisure time, while other sections focused on photographs of the Communist regime’s secret police, photographs of objects confiscated from Jews during the war, and other related themes. The majority of the photographs on exhibit were originally created without any artistic ambition, and as such they represent traces of collective memory. These records survey hidden obsessions, the methods of persecuting suspect individuals, and
an altogether objective collection of the documentation of sizes and forms
of various plants.

Any Instant Whatever was the title of an exhibition curated by Karel Císař in the gallery venue Bunkier Sztuki. He used the simple, basic space of the venue to launch a polemic against the notion of photography as a faultless representation of reality, contained within a single frame. Sequences
of photographs were interpreted by the curator as a means of expressing
the intangible nature of a moment in time, and the complex nature of the photographic image. A lengthy and static line of single Hyundai automobiles
by Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák, a series of five photographs by Markéta Othová in which the most eloquent moment was missing, or the projection
of blank slides, archival photographs sought out by Zbyňek Baladrán as examples of “back-up of a photo”, or the installation of negatives from Ján Mančuška’s The Other, notorious in the Czech scene, provided sceptical commentaries to the metamorphoses of the photographic medium in our time. In 1978, Vladimír Birgus wrote an article titled Nerozhodující okamžik (The Indecisive Moment)[ref]Birgus, Vladimír: Nerozhodující okamžik (The Indecisive Moment). Československá fotografie, 1978[/ref], an article pointing out new directions for the documentary photography of the day, which was in opposition to the photojournalist perspective then employed in the documentary genre. Karel Císař offered a different response to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s theory, launching instead an inquiry into the very possibilities of the photographic medium as such.

Miroslav Tichý, a Czech artist recently elevated to the status of a legend, was presented by curator Pavel Vančát at the Dominik Art Projects Gallery.
As the exhibition title – Style Options – suggests, the curator intended to place Tichy’s work within the social climate in which Tichý first became active as an artist, showing common points of reference as well as points of departure with the Late Modernism of the 1950s. Presenting paintings by Vladimír Vašíček and Richard Fremund, or Tichý’s own drawings and paintings, the exhibit was intended to indicate the non-photographic dimension of Tichý’s oeuvre and its roots.

Viktor Kolář’s exhibition was held in the former Jewish Synagogue, now the Starmach Gallery. Over the course of his entire life, the artist has photographed an extensive metaphorical essay on the city of Ostrava, which forms a part of his own existence. Within the exhibition hall, the images created a continuous, and in places slightly dense story, which spanned over forty years. In comparison with the retrospective structure of the Kolář exhibition, curator Martin Dostál conceived his selection from the works of Jiří David as a chain
of associations, intersecting part of the artist’s photographic oeuvre (featuring the cycles No Compassion, Hidden Image, My Hostage, Sakharov’s Apartment, Windowless Factory), and also including other works related
to the photographs.

A large number of other exhibitions, high rates of attendance, and the active participation of visitors in discussions, lectures and screenings all confirmed the sense that the medium of photography presents to the Polish public
a captivating and accessible form of spectacle. Polish festivals show various moods of looking at photography; the festival in Krakow presented the most compact view among the three, both in terms of presentation and the structure of its points of departure.

Markéta Kubačáková