Fotograf Magazine

Transphotographiques Lille 2009

The Transphotographiques Photography Festival in Lille has a different theme each year. After relationships between photography and cinematography in 2007, a year later, that is this year in May – June, the main theme was photography from Central and Eastern Europe. The fact that the festival, Lille 3000: Europe XXL, was taking place at the same time contributed to this. The latter presented dozens of expositions, concerts, plays, films and lectures from the new member-states and candidate countries of the European Union in this town in Northern France. Gigantic statues of mutant children and prehistoric lizards by the Russian group, AES+F, occupied the town centre. During the showing of contemporary art from the “new“ Europe, the video projections by Katyrzyna Kozyra from the Budapest men’s baths drew the greatest interest. The Museum of Creative Arts prepared a retrospective on the works of classic, Turkish, modern photographer, Ara Güler. One of the main attractions was the Hypnos exhibit, prepared by the Museum for Contemporary Art. It consisted of 350 images, graphic designs, photographs and/or books by 60 artists/authors, who worked during the first half of the 20th century. The works of many important artists – Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, František Kupka, Victor Brauner, Josef Šíma, Josef Váchal, Franz Kafka, and also both French and Czech representatives of art brut – showed the historical evolution of artistic exploitation of mysticism (mystique), hypnosis or the subconscious. The exhibit also included photographs by Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, František Drtikol and Jaroslav Rössler.

On one hand the Lille 3000 show expanded the Transphotographiques Festival, yet on the other it limited it. This is because the former swallowed a large amount of the town’s budget for cultural activities and so less money than normal remained for the photography festival. Lille 3000 also occupied several large exhibition spaces that otherwise would have been available for photography exhibits. This is seen most vividly in the case of the artistic centre, Tri Postal, where in previous years the Transphotographiques Festival had an entire three floors encompassing several thousands of squares metres of space at its disposal. This year they had to make do with just part of the ground floor. And so the new main space for the festival became the impressive Remeau Palace, where the most attractive viewer expositions took place. Among them were four Czech exhibits.

Dita Pepe showed samples of her renowned series, Self-Portraits with Women (Autoportréty s ženami) and Self-Portraits with Men (Autoportréty s muži), in which she makes chameleon-like changes to her own identity and accommodates the forms of her male and female partners. However, she also introduced original fashion photography from the collection, Bodysofa, which she created together with her husband, Petr Hrubeš. The phantomlike quality of the gently-coloured, romantic portraits of young men and women from Bára Prášilová’s series, Never Happened, inspired by certain trends in fashion photography, particularly stood out in its gigantic blow-ups of a 2×2 metre format. An expansive part of the Palace was dedicated to this exhibit. Tomáš Pospěch represented a completely different type of contemporary creation: documentary, colour snapshots from the series, Look at the Future – photos he took during the construction, launch of operations and rapid closing of the Korean-Dutch TV factory, LG Philips Displays in Hranice.

Polish photography had even larger space than did Czech creations in Lille. For a long time now the Transphotographiques Festival has dedicated a large amount of attention to Polish works thanks to the strong personal contacts between festival director, Olivier Spillebout, and Polish photographers and curators. This is also thanks to the fact that an eponymous festival takes place in the tri-city agglomerate, Gdańsk-Gdynia- Sopot. The Festival included primarily the works of younger representatives of new colour documentary and portraits with markedly subjective opinions, with intertwining of fact and fiction, often-exploited elements of pop culture and kitsch, ironic distancing from religious and political motifs and an interest in the themes of erotica and sexual minorities, such as until recently had not appeared in religiously-oriented Polish society. The duo of successful advert photographers, Zuza Krajewská and BartekWieczorek, were represented in Lille by their suggestive portraits of people who’d had their teeth knocked out, with bruises following beatings or with skin disorders, and by the plein air nudes of young men from the series, I only want to see the young man happy (Jenom chci vidět chlapce šťastného) and shots of wild parties that caused a scandal during last year’s Month of Photography in Bratislava. They exhibited the second, much-more-refined aspect of their work, advert photography, together with other members of the Photo-shop Group. In this exposition there were a number of refreshing ideas, but also several truly kitschy shots based on superficial effects. These also appeared in the artistic exhibit by Andrzej Dragan, who on the other hand peaked interest with his fictitious portraits showing how Marilyn Monroe or Adolf Hitler might look today. Oiko Petersen, a young Polish photographer living in London, showed two collections in Lille. In the series, Downtown, he showed portraits of persons afflicted by Down‘s Syndrome. This was done in perfect arrangements and with lighting in the style of modern photography and celebrity portraits. In this way he symbolically realised the subjects’ dreams of being famous athletes, artists or supermodels. In his second collection, Guys. From Poland with Love, he created suggestive portraits of Polish homosexuals of different ages and professions, who do not hide their sexual orientation in
a country that is not very tolerant of them.

Polish artists also dominated in the group, Sputnik-Photos, which presented itself in Lille via the project, On the Border (Na hranici), featuring workers and vendors from Vietnam, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Belarus
in various countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Rafal Milach, Jan Brzykczyński, Agneiszka Rayssová and Czech artist, Filip Singer, or Slovak, Andrej Balco, showed in their modern, social documentaries, the various aspects of the uneasy life of persons, who had quit their home countries, and often their families, for economic reasons and who try – often in horrendous conditions bordering on the limits of human dignity – to earn a living as market vendors at the Warsaw open air markets or as construction workers in Slovakia.

Poland was also the topic of several photo series from Western Europe, the USA, and from South America. The strongest (most impressive) of these was the exhibit of subtle photographs by American photographer, Jessica Backhaus, entitled, Jesus and the Cherry (Ježíš a třešně).With externally subtle, but extraordinarily sensitive portraits and details of the milieu in pastel colours, her photographs show the slowlydisappearing tradition of rural life. Brazilian photographer, Jo o Urban, focused on the sociologically significant details of (home) interiors of Polish emigrants in Brazil, who along with their memories of home brought family photos, reproductions of religious photos from Częstochowa and Kraków or Polish embroidery.

In addition to Poland and the Czech Republic other countries from Central and Eastern Europe were represented only in individual expositions. Among the most impressive was the exhibit of soft, black-and-white photographs from the traditional life of his parents done by Latvian, Alnis Stakle. Fashion photographer, Patrick Demachelier, mainly represented the stars of contemporary French photography. He exhibited a collection of technically-perfect, yet not-so-revolutionary, photographs that he took of young Russian model, Natasha Poly, for Vogue magazine. A further internationally-renowned star was American, Stanley Green, who exhibited in Lille raw journalistic photos on the suffering of people and the devastation of the environment in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which is plagued by civil war. Green is undoubtedly a courageous man, who with his photos contributed to the fact that this brother-against-brother battle in this territory has not fully disappeared from the eyes of global media. His blackand- white shots do not however have the visual strength nor the generalising symbolicalness of the wartime works of James Nachway, Antonín Kratochvíl or Paolo Pellegrino. And placing them in direct proximity to elegant fashion and portrait photography certainly did not help.

Even though this year’s Transphotographiques, similar to the majority of other festivals, had to make do with a substantially smaller budget, it was able to draw a large amount of viewers thanks to its emphasis on attractive exhibits, excellent promotion and the fact that an absolute majority of the expositions are accessible free-of-charge.

Vladimír Birgus