pl. Szczepański 3a
Open daily from 13 May until 14 June 2015, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Main Programme:

Zhang Dali - A Second History
Josef Koudelka - Invasion Prague 68
Wojciech Nowicki - Right Next Door
Łukasz Gorczyca, Adam Mazur - Vistula: With and Against the Tide of Propaganda
Joanna Piotrowska - Frowst
Sophie Ristelhueber - Every One (1994)
Indrė Šerpytytė - 1944–1991
Paweł Szypulski: Foreign Body

We’ve been invited to take part to the 2015’s edition of the Krakow Photomonth Festival, which lasts until June 14th. The theme of the Main Programme is conflict. A theme with suddenly captured my interest, since I did not know what to expect when talking about such an overrated topic. But as I like challenges I was even more curious to see and visit all the exhibitions.
The key word is medium, the curators approached it as a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of the medium towards a subject which, one might think, it is made to document.
Having an eye to the programme is quite easy to find it out. They present a various and extended selection of artists which goes from the history of conflict photography to some contemporary approaches.

The main exhibition is Invasion Prague 68 by Josef Koudelka. This body of work represents the artist’s reaction to a news event. For the first time, Koudelka went out onto the streets of Prague to document the invasion of a foreign army, the harm befalling his city, country, and fellow citizens. The subject of Koudelka’s photos is therefore not only the events in Prague, but also the conflict between foreign forces and the lone person in the crowd. The exhibition is a great celebration of the photographer’s work, showing some never published and exhibited photography. Even if the curatorial approach is connected to a classical view on Koudelka’s work, it is interesting the way it is presented – in a great location – and inserted in the festival’s programme.

But as the festival wants to be a platform to explore the possibilities and limitations of the medium itself, the topic of conflict finds several applications. It happens, for instance, watching Zhang Dali’s work, whose series A Second History points to obvious distortions of history, a printed trace of which remains, recorded in books and magazines, even when with the passage of time they are discovered. Indrė Šerpytytė tracks the places of conflicts and torments in Lithuania – years later, places and memory remain from them, but the documentation requires artistic processing and verbal commentary, as without them the picture cannot be understood.

Above the others Joanna Piotrowska’s work found a special place in my personal view on the festival. I really appreciate the decision to insert a work which goes through a more personal approach to the topic. In her series Frowst she focuses on family and intimacy. In Frowst we can feel a neverending tension between the members of a family. In these photographs, an element of unquestioned intimacy is tainted with an air of reluctance, oppression, boredom, and a barely noticeable hostility. The installation is presented in a very simple way: prints on the wall, without any frame and different sizes. A strict selection which gives the viewer this feeling of oppression, thanks also to the addition of photographs drawn from two other installations, s.w.a.l.k and Hester: suffocating images of ugly interiors; rooms which feel like cages, and animal pens which bring dark houses to mind.

It is possible to find a great new and diversify approach into PaweÅ‚ Szypulski’s Foreign Body, in my opinion one of the best shows of the whole Festival.  It is the exhibitions created especially for Krakow Photomonth which, starting from the question: “What do I see when I look at Nicki Minaj?” explores  with an artistic, fashion, documentary, reportage and scientific photography, the photographic representations of race and gender, with a particular emphasis on the appropriating character of pictures of non-white representatives of the human race as well as representations of women. I’ve really appreciated the variety of the presented works, as well as the whole installation which brings the viewer in a path into and etnographical study of the body representation through classical and contemporary approaches and views.

There is also a space dedicated to photobooks with Track-22 - Photobooks on Conflicts, an exhibition curated by Markus Schanden and The PhotoBookMuseum which focuses on conflict as an omnipresent and permanent feature of our age. Presented in a huge space, the installation brings together nine photobooks presenting several and different conflicts from Ukraine to Turkey and that  illustratates the paradoxical situation of both the photographer covering a conflict and the viewer looking at it starting from the question: does the photobook — as an autonomous contemporary art form and the central form of expression within photography — do justice to the turbulence of a whole zone that is severely out of joint? I really appreciated the way the installation is presented, giving a particular and studied context to each photobook, creating a space in which the viewer can literally enter and being part of the piece itself.

I also found very interesting Łukasz Gorczyca and Adam Mazur’s Vistula: With and Against the Tide of Propaganda, an exhibition formed by publications printed during the period of the Polish People’s Republic (1952–1989).  The installation examines the way in which the photobook format and Vistula theme have been used to bring several meanings both at a political propaganda and in the name of civic engagement.

Last but not least I think is worth to visit the ShowOFF section which, in a great industrial location, presents the premieres of projects of young artists selected in an open competition. This year’s featured artists are Ilias Georgiadis, Helio Leon, Łukasz Kuś, Gabriel Orłowski, Wiktor Dąbkowski, Michał Smandek, Dorotka Kaczmarek, Anna Zagrodzka and Yulia Krivich (book).

Along with the quality of the exhibition and the great reading on the topic, I want also to notice the great frame that the city of Krakow gives to the Festival. All the exhibitions spaces are well curated and offer a great place in which showcasing this variety of works and approaches.

I already knew about the prestigious of the Krakow Photomonth, but I can say I’ve been positively impressed by the way they managed to give a new and interesting reading on the topic of conflict, taking also some risks which make this edition of the Festival a special one. Highly recommended.