PhotoVisa 2012 – Part 1
The smaller and regional photo festivals around the world offer emerging and mid-career photographers an excellent platform for their work and a chance to build quality network connections. Friendly and less hierarchical than their metropolitan cousins, these festivals often have a strongly collegiate and egalitarian atmosphere that makes it well worth the journey.
One such festival is PhotoVisa, held annually in Krasnodar, close to the Black Sea coast of Russia. It is my great pleasure to introduce the dynamic Russian journalist Elena Firsova, a regular visitor to the festival, to report on the initiative and its 2012 edition. Her two-part article is particularly interesting because it sets the context of how such a festival came into existence and how it is sustained. While it is always interesting to learn of new work showing at a festival, her report provides a valuable insight into festival making that will, I believe, be of interest both to photographers considering participation and to those entrepreneurial spirits thinking about launching a festival in their own region.
This is Part 1 of Elena Firsova’s report on PhotoVisa festival in Krasnodar. To jump to Part 2 go here.
Elena Firsova Reporting
The fourth annual edition of the PhotoVisa festival was held in the Russian city of Krasnodar from 17 October to 18 November 2012. As a journalist at the Russian magazine Foto&Video and a reviewer at the festival’s portfolio review event, I have been invited to attend the opening week of PhotoVisa for the last three years. Here, I will try to summarise some important facts and my general impressions of the festival, with a focus on what I hope will be of interest to readers internationally.
PHOTOVISA WAS ESTABLISHED IN 2008 by a group of enthusiasts from Krasnodar, a city of some 750 000 people located 1,400 km south of Moscow. It is not far from Black Sea and only about 300 km away from Sochi, the location for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Krasnodar is primarily a centre for trading, manufacturing and, thanks to the warm climate of the region, agriculture. It is not a place one immediately thinks of as having a rich cultural life. It does have two, regionally significant, state museums (the Felitzin Historical and Archaeological Museum and the Kovalenko Museum of Art), a few galleries and several exhibition halls, one state university of the arts (Krasnodar State University of Culture and Arts) and two state art colleges. It would appear that the influence of the international contemporary art world is not particularly strong here and the majority of art managers in the city are rather conservative in their thinking.
In terms of the city’s photographic life, Krasnodar has a private school where Viktor Khmel and Elena Sukhoveeva provide lessons in art photography (both photo artists are well-known in Russia and have participated in the Moscow Photo-biennale several times). Another group of photographers, mostly young, is concentrated around the contemporary art photographer Yury Zaytsev. The town has a couple of independent short-term photo courses too; however, the main photographic activity in Krasnodar focuses on wedding and other applied forms of photography. Nonetheless, Krasnodar has given the country a few photographers who are well-known (mainly in Russia), including the young rising star Margo Ovcharenko who participated in Houston FotoFest 2012 and is represented by the Russian Tea Room Gallery in Paris.
While Krasnodar wasn’t a very promising location in which to start a photo festival, two important factors helped in establishing PhotoVisa. Krasnodar is the home of the VivaPhoto collective and it is the place where the internationally known curator, Irina Chmyreva, has her family roots.
IMAGE: (left to right) Tatiana Zubkova, Maria Goldman and Levan Mamulov of VivaPhoto art group. ~~~~ [photos © Elena Firsova]
VIVAPHOTO is a group of Russian photographers; a kind of ‘Magnum Photos from Krasnodar’. The members of VivaPhoto most closely involved in making PhotoVisa are Tatiana Zubkova, Maria Goldman and Levan Mamulov. They are all professional photographers. Tatyana Zubkova, who is an art photographer and photojournalist, was a winner of the Museum Biennale of Photography 2009 organised by the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg. Maria Goldman, a documentary photographer, participated in the 2007 Rencontres d’Arles as a winner of the Street Photography contest organized by HYPE Gallery and the Magnum Photo Agency. She studied photography at the Academy of Arts in Tel-Aviv, but subsequently returned to her native Krasnodar. Levan Mamulov, who is also a documentary photographer, teaches photography at the local art college. Before coming to the city he was, for many years, one of the leading photographers in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was a director of a photo studio in the Central House of Artists. These three personalities helped ensure that, from the beginning, PhotoVisa had wide-ranging interests. People with such biographies are rarely found in regional Russia and the collaboration of such people at the same time and in one place was a big opportunity for the city.
The first editions of PhotoVisa were put together by Irina Chmyreva and these three members of VivaPhoto working with an extensive group of volunteers. At that time, the festival had no special support from government, big business or the not-for-profit sector.
IMAGE: Irina Chmyreva (right, holding catalogue) introducing the winners of the 2012 PhotoVisa contest. [photo © Dmitry Fisenko]
SEVERAL YEARS HAVE NOW PASSED and PhotoVisa has become the county’s largest regional photo festival, in all of Russia it is second only for its international profile to the Photo-biennale in Moscow (which is organised by Moscow House of Photography). In 2011 PhotoVisa became a member of the Festival of Light community putting it on an equal footing with Houston FotoFest, the Mois de la Photo in Paris and other major photo festivals globally. The group organising PhotoVisa has grown too, and the festival is now curated by Evgeny Berezner and Natalia Tarasova as well the original team introduced above.
PhotoVisa is different when compared with other regional photo festivals in Russia (we have six or seven of them in all) because of its mix of domestic and international perspectives. The festival combines the dynamism and fresh thinking of the local organisers from Krasnodar with the knowledge, influence, network and ambition of curators who work at an international level. Evgeny Berezner, Irina Chmyreva and Natalia Tarasova, and their American colleagues curated the Russian program of the 2012 Houston FotoFest and organised the International Portfolio Review for Russian Photographers in Moscow held one year earlier, to mention just two of their international projects. It is almost impossible to find this combination in other regional initiatives in Russia, which are mostly made ‘from within’ by local curators or by those known in Russia, but not abroad. So, a very strong point in PhotoVisa’s favour is the team that runs it.
Every year it seems that PhotoVisa is twice as big as the year before. That is, with the exception of 2009 when, due to the global financial crisis, the festival presented a ‘lite’ version; and it is why 2012 was officially the fourth and not the fifth edition.
IMAGE: Opening at AngART Centre for Contemporary Art. This is a new space in Krasnodar, which has already attracted a lot of interest among the city’s younger generation. PhotoVisa presented here works by the South American photographers Alejandro Almaraz (Argentina), Jose Pilone (Uruguay) and Cale–(Brazil). .~~~~~ . [photo © Elena Firsova]
IN 2012 THE FESTIVAL REACHED ITS ZENITH. The main reason was that it had new sponsors; and they now constitute a strong second point in PhotoVisa’s favour. While several local companies from Krasnodar have, and continue to, sustain the festival, in 2012 they were joined by the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture and the IRIS Art Foundation from Moscow, whose additional support marked an important advance for the festival. Both Garage and IRIS are run by the same person, Dasha Zhukova, who was named as one of the “2012 Power 100” in ArtReview magazine. The Russian program presentation at the 2012 Houston FotoFest and the Moscow Portfolio Review 2011 were also both organised thanks to Garage and IRIS. And Evgeny Berezner, Irina Сhmyreva and Natalia Tarasova work together on the ‘In support of photography in Russia’ project, which is itself a subdivision of the IRIS Foundation. One of the main objectives of both IRIS and Garage is to support culture in the Russian regions, and PhotoVisa has turned out to be an excellent example of this.
The organisers of PhotoVisa try to think globally, refracting the world festival-making experience in the local context. In creating the festival they explore many dimensions. Each year PhotoVisa consistently includes a ‘geographical’ vector: photographers from abroad, famous Russian authors and local practitioners. And the same is true at the institutional vector. We can see exhibitions by the famous and by young emerging artists. The ‘time’ vector is also recognized: every year the program has something contemporary, something modern and something from the past. And it doesn’t end with photography; related art forms are also involved, with multimedia and video projects always on a list. The organisers pay particular attention to inviting guests (from Russia and abroad) for the event, including, along with the photographers, other personalities from the field of photography such as photo editors, art dealers, critics and so on. They visit the festival not only to see the exhibitions and communicate with the visitors, but also to take part in the festival’s portfolio review.
IMAGE: Part of the installation by Valera and Natasha Cherkashin at the Myskhako winery. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ [photo © Elena Firsova]
PHOTOVISA HAS MANY BENEFICIAL EFFECTS and I would like to outline five of them here:
Firstly, the educational aspect. On the one hand, thanks to the exhibitions, master-classes and artists talks, it helps to open up the variety Russian and international photographic art in all its different aspects for people of Krasnodar and the surrounding area. On the other hand, it introduces Russian photography and the Russian way of life to the guests invited from abroad.
Secondly, the festival helps to integrate Russian photography and Russian artists into the global processes, and Russian art institutions into the international art world. As an example, the Kovalenko Museum of Art has some key examples of avant-garde painting (Chagall, Goncharova, Rozanova), which festival guests have a chance to see during the private views each year. It is also worth noting that the festival has brought a number of young Russian photographers (mainly from Krasnodar and the region) into the national and international orbits of photography.
The third point is communication. PhotoVisa contributes to creating a photo community and helps to build networks among Russians themselves, and at a wider international level. This is not limited to ‘photo people’ alone, but in the wider society of people from different countries.
Fourth is the contribution to the development of the region. The concentration of resources in Moscow and St. Petersburg creates a difficult problem for the Russian regions today. PhotoVisa brings a centrifugal force into the equation. The developmental benefits extend to non-art companies of the region, for example, Myskhako, a local winery and brand that was involved in the program of the 2012 festival (see more in Part 2).
Finally, the festival sets a good example for people who are thinking about making something new in the field of photography in Russia, but who remain too afraid to begin. PhotoVisa demonstrates that all is possible if you really wish it.
In Part 2 of her two-part report on PhotoVisa, Elena Firsova explores some of the key ideas and introduces some of the important guests that helped shape the experience of the 2012 festival. She goes on to consider the way forward and the importance of engaging local audiences when staging an international event. To read Part 2 go here.
(Top) Composite banner from left to right: 1. detail from an image by Oleg Dou from his series ‘Tears’ 2008; 2. part of the installation by Valera and Natasha Cherkashin at the Myskhako winery; 3. a poster for PhotoVisa 2013; 4. opening of the exhibition of work by pupils of Viktor Khmel and Elena Sukhoveeva; 5. Andrey Chezhin at the opening of his exhibition (detail). [photos 2, 4 & 5 © Elena Firsova]
Author portrait: Elena Firsova at PhotoVisa 2012 [photo © Natalia Vertlib]
Composite map and photograph of the opening at Gallery Mall. There were three shows at this venue: ‘A sense of his soul’ by Dennis Hodges (USA), ‘Not In Your Face’ by Susan A. Barnett (USA) and an exhibition of the winners of the 2012 PhotoVisa contest. The visitors to Gallery Mall had an opportunity to take a break from shopping and discover art on the upper levels. Perhaps some of those people will be among Krasnodar’s first art collectors. [photo © Dmitry Fisenko]