How did you come up with the idea of holding the first photo book festival in Moscow?
Katerina Zueva (KZ): This idea, as they say, has long been in the air. The fact is that in Europe and America, festivals dedicated to photo book art have been held for quite a while — for instance, there are festivals in Vienna, in Kassel, or a photo book section at Paris Photo. In Russia, however, nobody ever organised anything like this. And that's not fair, because there is a unique photographic environment in our country, and it's time to call attention to it. The festival will provide this opportunity. We want it to become a platform for communication between amateur photographers and professionals, between artists and ordinary citizens.
On May 12, The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography opens the exhibition New Spread presenting works and books of modern Russian photographers within the PHOTOBOOKFEST 2017 festival. Exhibition curator Anastasia Bogomolova is a young artist, researcher and book collector from the Urals.
Why is there a need to organise such a festival in Russia now? Why is there an opportunity? Did the number of self-published books reach its critical mass?
KZ: Surprisingly, in the last few years, Russian modern-minded and talented photographers have been ignoring the photographic scene in Russia and have put their forces in competitions and festivals abroad. Additionally, it turns out that neither viewer nor professional in our country has an opportunity to experience the photo book format. So, we did not want to exclude the Russian professional photographic community from this wave of high interest in photo books. We also realised that if we don't do it, probably no one in Russia would. Besides, Photobookfest is a reason to make a big international photo festival in Moscow. The fact is that Russia has conducted several major international festivals, where there were both competitive and educational programs, festival spirit and horizontal organisation of the event — in Krasnodar, Kaliningrad, Uglich, — but Moscow has so far remained on the sidelines.
Is there a Western festival that you drew inspiration from when preparing a concept for your own? What is your unique feature?
KZ: Of course, we thoroughly studied the photographic environment in which our foreign colleagues work. But these are mainly photographic fairs: independent publishers and authors set their work on the shelves and this becomes the centre of such events. We will not have a fair. We decided to focus on public, exhibition and educational programs. This is probably our main difference from foreign photo book events. Another feature that sets us apart has to do with our contest. Most festivals are initiated by publishers, for whom book publishing is the core business. Thus, our contest helps to identify a potentially successful project that can be published. You see, often the rights to the book belong to a publisher, and authors, although they receive the laurels, are hardly the masters of their own projects. In our contest there will be no publisher that will be interested in a book as a means of commerce. All copies will be the property of the winner. For us, it is important not to do business, but to support our participants.
The most unusual of many photobook contests, FLIP Photobook Award, was first held in the fall of 2016. The jury evaluated not the books of artists working with photography, but videos presenting these books. The winner of FLIP Photobook Award 2016 was the work of Iranian artist Amak Mahmoodian. The shortlist included Ksenia Yurkova, Olga Bushkova, Roc Herms, Brad Feuerhelm, and Ana Paula Estrada.
How did the Western curators react to an invitation to a festival in Russia? As we know, Russia's reputation, at the moment, is not the best in the world. Who of them will come to the festival? What is the role planned for them – only to participate in the final round of the jury's work? Lectures?
KZ: All of them were enthusiastic and many wanted to participate. We even feel bad that we managed to attract so many experts this time since, consequently, nobody new will remain for next year. But, seriously, everybody was very interested in what is happening in Russia. Knowledge about authors and their works reaching the West is pushing curators, publishers and specialists from Europe and the US to look in our direction. All books from our authors are interesting and respected. For our colleagues there was no doubt concerning Russia's reputation.
Many researchers of photo books, curators and photographers will come to us. Among them are Leslie Martin from Aperture publishing, Calin Kruse, publisher of Die Nacht, Peter Puklus, artist from Hungary, Andrew Sanigar from Thames&Hudson, Dieter Neubert, curator of Photo book Festival in Kassel, Salvatore Vitale, chief editor of Yes Magazine, Delphine Bedel, co-founder of the Amsterdam Book Fair, and Matthieu Charon, RVB Books publisher. They take an active part in the educational program. For instance, photographers can already register for Calin Kruse's workshop «Photo Assembly: Book, Design, Structure», and Peter Puklus's workshop «Body and Object». Seats are limited as this will be an intensive course on working with photo book.
As part of Photobookfest's 2017 exhibition program, the installation of the Hungarian artist Peter Puklus "Handbook to the Stars" made up of 32 copies of his book, will be presented at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography from May 12th to May 28th. With this handbook he attempts to portray his own universe: his photographic works relate withto each other like galaxies in relative proximity to one another that are bound together by their own gravitational force. The imagery has no sequence or chronology, it functions alongside one another and through one another, and exist individually even as the images form interconnections and follow their own patterns. The photos do not necessarily fit on a page in this book, which implies that they may appear fragmented, sometimes small, sometimes large, precisely as they coexist in Puklus' universe of images.
How did you find printing house Pareto-Print that is to implement the dummy project of the winner? Do they specialize in photo book production? Where could one see examples of their work and why did they agree, what do you think?
KZ: There are no large printing houses specialising in production of photo books. This was pretty weird. There are small experimental platforms/publishing houses/printing houses that are somehow trying to work with photo books, but their capacity and possibilities are not like those of big, grown-up, serious printing houses, which Pareto-Print is. I think it is possible to find books published by them in any bookstore in Russia. They print art albums for many museums. Moreover, they are not just businessmen: they are as eager as we are. When we told the printing house representative about our idea to support the photo book format, they were excited about it. The weirder and stranger a book is, the more interested they will be.
What events are scheduled for the festival (exhibitions, lectures, presentations)? Can you name the most anticipated?
KZ: There will be extensive educational and exhibition programs at the festival. Also, we were accepting layouts of photo books from everybody until April 25. In addition to the workshops, we prepare lectures of foreign and Russian curators. We invited Alexander Rodchenko’s heir, Alexander Lavrentiev, to participate in Photobookfest. We will also give space to the lectures of Igor Mukhin, Nadya Sheremetova, Anastasia Bogomolova. Furthermore, Anastasia Bogomolova is preparing the exhibition New Spread for us. This exhibition is an attempt to study contemporary Russian photo book landscape and its heterogeneous structure. Works of Julia Borissova, Arthur Bondar, Irina Popova, Alena Zhandarova, Ikuru Kuwajima and many others will be presented there. A similar exhibition was held in Yekaterinburg, but in Moscow it will open for the first time. We also plan events that will be of interest not only to photographers but also to a wider audience — for example, lectures on artificial intelligence, or history of avant-garde books. In fact, it is difficult to distinguish the headliners, and I do not want to – all events and participants are equal.
This year Moscow PHOTOBOOKFEST hosts The Fotobookfestival Kassel, which has gone on a journey first time in 9 years! Festival's route is amazing and the first stop is Turkey! The shortlist of Kassel Dummy Award 2017 has already been announced within Istanbul Photobook Festival and the jury will choose the winners soon. The collection of these photobooks will be presented in Moscow in two weeks' time.
Do you think that foreign photographers from around the world will come to the festival? Do you plan to conduct all lectures and presentations in English or is the festival designed for a more local audience?
KZ: We widely announced the festival and hope that foreign guests will visit us. All texts for exhibitions will be repeated in English. Foreign speakers will lecture in English, so foreigners will have no problems understanding them. In general The Center for Photography attracts foreign tourists, so they often come to our exhibitions.
Do you cooperate with the Moscow experts in the field of book graphics (e.g., Graphics Department at the Stroganov University?)
Yes, we tried to invite specialists not only from photographic environment, but also from design and printing industries to participate both jury and educational program. We have, for example, Dmitry Mordvintsev, Director of ABC Design bureau, in our contest jury. His bureau is one of the leading design bureaus working with major museums in Russia. He also teaches at the Stroganov University. We also involved Alexander Lavrentiev in the educational program. He'll tell us about image assembly in photographic books of the 1930s. He, together with the students, will also present experiments in the field of photography and poetry, which merge in a book format.
Soviet photobooks of 1920–1930s are among the most significant phenomena in the world history of photobooks of the 20th century. Today their artistic and printing qualities, along with advanced design are highly appreciated by the researchers of books and photography. This was not always the case, however. The discovery of this material, forgotten and unclaimed for decades, began only in the late 90s. Exhibition The USSR is building socialism. Masterpieces of the Soviet photobooks of the 1930s introduces the most outstanding and ambitious period in the history of Soviet photobooks.
How many dummies have you already received and how can you assess their level? Will there be significant competition, and will it be difficult to choose for the jury, how so do you think?
KZ: I can't answer this question until the announcement of the short list. But there are already more than fifty dummies, and the authors represent very different generations, which is unexpected and intriguing.
Why did you decide to limit it to dummies made by photographers from the former Soviet Union? Aren't you afraid that you just won't be able to get enough applications? Since despite the fact that the photo book phenomenon is very popular in Europe and America, photographers from former Soviet Union are not quite used to it.
KZ: We decided this time to limit to the former Soviet Union because it is important for us to stir up and give support to photographers of the area that is close to us, both due to common cultural aspects and, in fact, geographical ones. We believe that in the Netherlands or in Germany things are much better with photo books, but as for the list of countries that was declared for the contest, we think it is necessary to encourage and support what is happening there. This is why we limited ourselves to this geography. We are not likely to change it. Of course, we hope that this festival will be revealing, and that it will show us what should be done next time. We have not determined periodicity of the festival yet: once a year, every two years, etc., but we really want to continue. There are so many ideas that it is impossible to implement this year, and we hope that the festival will live on.
The thirty-five books, shortlisted for the fifth edition of the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards, offer a snapshot of the photobook community's recent output—a sampling from a period in which we have seen an ambitious reinvention of the traditional book form, evolving sophistication in approaches to storytelling, and bold experimentation with production techniques. © ZZYZX, Gregory Halpern (MACK)
Photobook Fest Russia
FLIP Photobook Award
The Fotobookfestival Kassel