EMOP FESTIVAL. BRATISLAVA EDITION
by Polina Shubkina


Earlier this November I had a pleasure of visiting the European Month of Photography in Bratislava. In two days I managed to attend over seven exhibition openings and to review the works by 22 talented international photographers, during the portfolio review sessions, organized within the festival. I would like to thank Prof. Václav Macek (professor at the University of Performing Arts, Bratislava, director of the EMOP festival, Bratislava), and Branislav Stepanek (photographer, curator of the EMOP festival, Bratislava) for finding time to share their thoughts and insights with our readers.


©Peter Prochazka Photography, left to right: Branislav Stepanek (EMOP Curator), Prof. Václav Macek(EMOP Director), Dorota Holubova (EMOP PR Manager), Prof. Gigliola Foschi.

Could you please briefly describe your career?
Václav Macek (V.M.): In 1982 I graduated from the Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic), where I was studying film and theatre science. Afterwards, I became a head of a photography gallery “On the Edge” in the suburbs of Bratislava, since 1992 until now I have been directing the Month of Photography Festival in Bratislava. Between 1995 and 2010 I was working as an editor-in-chief of the IMAGO magazine. My primary interest has always been the history of film and photography. I published a book on the history of Slovak cinema, as well as numerous monographs of the work by photographers and film directors such as Elo Havetta, Dušan Hanák, Tono Stano, Miro Švolík, Jozef Sedlák, Kamil Varga, and others. Since 2005 I have been appointed as a director of the Central European House of Photography.


© Florian Rainer (First place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) from the series 'Cuber,' 2015

You wrote an impressive number of books on cinematography, your latest work "The History of European Photography 1970-2000" encapsulates a significant research in the field of photography. How all these years of academic research changed your way of seeing the world?
V.M: The academic research for my book on the history of European photography 1900-2000 helped me to understand that you have to be careful in your judgments of cultures, as every culture can offer you something valuable and unique.

You have been an art educator for a long time now, how did your teaching method evolve in the past years?
V.M: In the last years, I have been putting much more stress on a dialogue with my students; I do not like to lecture too much anymore. I prefer seminars where I teach my students to think about various subjects; I do not propose ready knowledge. My teaching process is fluid, sometimes I learn from the students as well.


© Florian Rainer (First place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) from the series 'Cuber,' 2015

How did you get involved in organizing the European Month of Photography festival in Slovakia? What is this year's focus?
V.M: The beginning of the festival was based on taking over an idea of Mois de la Photo from Paris and bringing famous photographers to Bratislava. We do not use one topic for the festival. We compose the programme around most influential artists from Central end Eastern Europe as well as presenting world-famous artists - this year Nobuyoshi Araki and Bruce Gilden.

What events are scheduled for the festival (exhibitions, lectures, presentations)? Can you name the most anticipated?
V.M: Every year I am looking forward to exhibitions which feature not as well known artists in Slovakia but the artists with a great body of work. Last year I admired the work by Anita Witek because of her ability to transform 2D photographs in 3D installations. This year I liked very much the work by Robert Novák, designer, who transforms everyday objects into mysterious objects and thanks to an excellent mounting of images changes gallery space in something reminiscent of outdoor space.

What do you think about the era of digital and social networking?
V.M: You can not change it, so you have to use for your benefits.

In your opinion, how does the globalization affect visual arts, (film, and photography in particular) in Slovakia?
V.M: The globalization gives Slovak artists a chance to compete in the global art market. The best examples are Martin Kollár and Lucia Nimcová.


© Florian Rainer (First place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) from the series 'Cuber,' 2015

Could you please briefly describe your career?
Branislav Stepanek (B.S.): Photography and art have been part of my life long before, but I only started studying photography at a university in the Czech Republic in 2009. Several years later, I wrote a diploma project about the history of the Month of Photography in Bratislava and the institution which is running it, and this endeavor gradually evolved into close cooperation with the festival. Currently, I am curating the festival programme as well as its leading exhibitions. Also, I take part in various related projects such as the European Month of Photography, which is a cooperation of 8 festivals around Europe, including Bratislava.

When did you move to Bratislava and how you've seen it change over time?
B.S.: Bratislava is my hometown; I was born and raised here. The city has undergone several significant changes. Less than a hundred years ago, it used to be a multinational city where everybody spoke three languages: German, Hungarian, and Slovak. After the WWII and the onset of communism, the minorities slowly vanished, and people from rural parts of Slovakia started to move in. During my childhood, Petrzalka – the largest housing estate in Central Europe, made of concrete panel houses and comprising 150 000 inhabitants – was built. The most brutal changes came after the fall of communism, when developers backed by oligarchs and corrupt politicians started to rebuild the city, often without respecting its history, zoning plans, and common sense. The impact was not only urbanistic and architectural but mainly socio-cultural and sociological. This phenomenon of progressive alienation had been long explored by many photographers, namely Karol Kállay, Ján Cifra, Anton Sládek, Juraj Chlpík, Olja Triaška Stefanović, Viktor Szemzö, Martina Šimkovičová, Deana Kolenčíková, Peter Korček, and others. Now it is up to the citizens to help their city develop its genuine values and regain the notion of “nativeness” while being open to newcomers.


© Mariya Kozhanova (Second place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) "Declared Detachment" series (2012 - present)>


© Mariya Kozhanova (Second place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) "Declared Detachment" series (2012 - present)

How did you get involved in organizing the European Month of Photography festival in Slovakia? What is this year's focus?
B.S: Václav Macek, who is running the festival ever since asked me to join and cooperate. I think he sought a partner for programme development and also someone organizationally capable. This year, the festival featured Bruce Gilden and Nobuyoshi Araki as the main headliners. We wanted to present them as opposites – one Western artist, shooting on the streets B&W, and the other Eastern artist, shooting staged nudes in color. And yet, despite this distinction, the general feeling from both exhibitions is somehow uniting. Other than this, the festival had always been a showcase of Central and Eastern European Photography. The current edition features Ivan Matejka (SK), Lisl Steiner and Antonia Mayer (AT), John Demos (GR), Vladimír Birgus and Robert Novák (CZ), Mustafa Mustafa Dedeoğlu (TR), Judit Elek (HU), Dominika Gesicka (PL), Nataša Segulin (SLO), Yasena Popova (BG), and Nikolay Kulebyakin (RU). The major part of exhibitions was focused on cultural diversity.

What is the vision behind the Bratislava Month of Photography? How can artists interact or participate in it?
B.S: Since the festival’s conception, the primary goal has been to show photography art that appeals to the broad range of visitors – photography professionals, scholars, artists, but also the general public, ordinary people who are visiting a gallery only once or twice a year. The programme, therefore, comprises all genres, including documentary, portrait, staged or conceptual photography. There is no intention to show everything to everyone, but instead provide a solid basis and let the visitor choose. Normally, exhibiting artists are appointed by a curatorial board. There is one exception, however: the winner of the last year’s portfolio review will produce a solo exhibition in the next edition.


© Mariya Kozhanova (Second place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) "Declared Detachment" series (2012 - present)


© Mariya Kozhanova (Second place at EMOP Bratislava Portfolio Review) "Declared Detachment" series (2012 - present)

What events were scheduled for the festival (exhibitions, lectures, presentations)? Can you share a few highlights of the festival?
B.S: The core of the festival is exhibitions. We spoke earlier about Gilden, Araki, and others. Also remarkable are documentary photographs from Albania and Kosovo after the fall of communism by John Demos (GR) and Hans Madej (DE), respectively, surrealistic postcards from the early 20th century collected and curated by Harri Kalha (FI), a conceptual and yet deeply personal project of Mariela Sancari (ARG/MX) who sought her deceased father in the photographs of other men, and Paola Di Bello (IT) exploring the urban landscape in the most unexpected visual twists.

The festival is traditionally accompanied by a portfolio review, lasting two days, featuring 16 reviewers and many artists from all over Europe. Each artist had seven consultations with the reviewer of their choice. Another activity was a mini-conference on contemporary documentary photography, with contributions by leading European photographers and historians Vladimír Birgus (CZ), John Demos (GR) and Boris Németh (SK). Last but not least, we always strive to find time for networking and cultural exchange among visitors and festival guests.


Margarita Makarova (Third place at the EMOP Bratislava portfolio review), from the "Reflections" series


Margarita Makarova (Third place at the EMOP Bratislava portfolio review), from the "Reflections" series

You studied at the Institut tvůrčí fotografie (Institute for Creative Photography) in Opava, have all these years of being involved in photography, on so many levels, changed your way of seeing the world?
B.S: The school turned my life upside down. And although it never made me a better photographer (that being solely my fault, not the school’s), it gave me so much in other areas. Notably, the school taught me not to be afraid of appreciating art that I don’t understand. The school’s creative spirit encouraged me (as well as my other fellow mates) to do much more work for others, which is the reason why I am co-organizing the Month of Photography in Bratislava.

What do you think about the era of digital and social networking in its relation to photography?
B.S: Photography became more ubiquitous than ever before, so much that people are hardly able to perceive it. But even if there may be some downsides, I believe that the massive photographic archive that is continuously being produced on social networks is showing us a bit more truthful world. We just need to learn to look the right way.

In your opinion, how does the globalization affect visual arts, (film, and photography in particular) in Slovakia?
B.S: The economic impact of globalization had been mostly positive, at least for the Central Europeans. It allows artists to travel, study and work anywhere in the world. However, not everyone has been that “lucky.” To my sad surprise, I learned from one of our festival guests that an ordinary Mexican student cannot buy a 20 EUR photography book, because it is prohibitively expensive (the GDP per capita of Mexico City and Slovakia are comparable).

From the artistic point of view, globalization affected not only working practice, technology, and gear but also education, this makes photography art increasingly uniform. I certainly appreciate the existence of the highly competitive global art market where it is much easier to share ideas or follow trends, but let’s not forget that art is not science nor sports. And so, sometimes it makes sense to turn away from the global toward the local, to isolated artistic efforts that are maybe not the most-up-to-date, but rather distinctive, engaging and valuable.

---

LINKS
Florian Rainer
Mariya Kozhanova
Margarita Makarova

European Month Of Photography
URBANAUTICA: Slovakia