Copenhagen Photo Festival and Odesa Photo Days join hands


Copenhagen Photo Festival and Odesa Photo Days join hands

On 2-12 June, Copenhagen Photo Festival turns a 10,000 m2 wasteland into an innovative exhibition park filled with the best of photography and lens-based art. This year, you can additionally experience two exhibitions from the Odesa Photo Days in Ukraine: ‘Granny’ by photo artist Olena Morozova, and ‘The Thin Line’, a group exhibition curated by the Ukrainian festival’s leader, Kateryna Radchenko. We at Der Greif have talked to both of the exhibition makers, as well as to Maja Dyrehaube Gregersen, director of the Copenhagen Photo Festival. Enjoy the read, and if you happen to be in the Nordics this June, don’t miss the largest photo festival in the region!

Copenhagen Photo Festival Maja Dyrehaube Gregersen

Maja, you have been Managing Director of Copenhagen Photo Festival since 2016 with a distinct emphasis on experimentation and sustainability, as well as a strong international focus and long-term collaborations across Europe. Stereotypes, conflict zones and a highly topical depiction of escapes frame this year’s artworks in focus. Can you tell us more about the programme highlights? “As always, we have a strong focus on international photography at the exhibition park – the heart of the festival. This time, we present 9 solo and group exhibitions in the festival centre, and I regard them all as highlights but if I must pinpoint something, it would be the strong presence of female authors, e.g., the three winners of our open call. Vietnamese Hien Hoang won in the category Framing Identity with the video performance and photography-based project ‘Asia Bistro - Made in Rice’. In her works, she confronts us with classic notions of Asian culture especially depicted through food culture. In the Framing Society category, the Anglo-American artist Alexandra Rose Howland won for the project ‘Leave and Let Us Go’. Through collages of everyday images collected from the inhabitants of Mosul, she strives to unfold a more nuanced and diverse image of the war-torn region, which is often only known through the media coverage. American-Latvian-Lithuanian Krista Svalbonas won in the category Framing Vision, which honours an aesthetic visionary project. With ‘Displacement’, she explores the history of her parents and grandparents. After Russia's invasion of the Baltic countries in the 1940s, they were driven into exile and housed in camps for displaced people in Germany. The project illustrates the unfortunate story of displaced people for whom the idea of ​​’home’ is undermined by political agendas beyond their control. The war in Ukraine puts her historically investigative works in a frighteningly contemporary perspective. Besides the three winners, we are happy to give space to the Nordic group exhibition ‘A Female Gaze’ with contributions from 11 female photographers revolving around the idea of a certain female gaze – does it exist and if so, what does it entail? Parallel to this, we have Ukrainian Olena Morozova’s iconic photos of her independent grandmother in the Soviet era. So, past and present female positions are connected during this festival edition.”

Another central part of the festival’s work is to lift the Danish talent pool. At the festival you can therefore once again experience the Nordic Talents nominated by the photography platform Futures. Can you let us know who’s presented? “This year, we have chosen to focus on talents especially from Denmark and Greenland and with a very diverse approach to the photographic media. The Danish talents are photojournalists Oscar Scott Carl and Iben Gad, video- and performance artist Luna Scales educated from Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Inuuteq Storch educated from Fatamorgana and ICP, and Tine Bek also from Fatamorgana and Glasgow School of Art.” Co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the EU, Futures pools the resources and talent programmes of cultural institutions across Europe in order to support new talents. As prominent institutions with a great impact and influence in the world of photography, both Der Greif and Copenhagen Photo Festival count to Futures’ members. Der Greif is currently working on its 15th print publication, an issue dedicated entirely to the theme ‘collectivity’. Odesa Photo Days and Copenhagen Photo Festival joins hands this summer. Which value do you see in partnerships like this in the face of a world that is seemingly overcome by crises? “I personally think that we as a photography festival are obliged to use the power of the visual language to tell important stories and engage in the international agenda. So, I found it natural to reach out to Kateryna and Odesa Photo Days, and I was surprised how few steps there actually were from idea to reality in this case. Normally, our international collaborations on an institutional level demand much more time. Our hope is that with this collaboration we can both show some highly current exhibitions and maintain a general awareness of the war and at the same time shed light on the cultural life and art – the festival Odesa Photo Days and the Ukrainian photographers – suffering from the war.”

Odesda Photo Days Kateryna Radchenko: ‘The Thin Line’

Kateryna, in 2015 you founded Odesa Photo Days and since then, you have been working as the international festival’s director. Due to the Russian invasion, Odesa Photo Days do not have a venue in their home town for their annual festival. Instead CPF hosts two exhibitions including ‘The Thin Line’. Can you share with our community your curatorial concept of this group exhibition? “We scheduled the opening of the 8th Odesa Photo Days for 19 May 2022. At the end of February 2022, when we saw the escalation of the war and a full-scale invasion, it became obvious that there would be no festival in Odesa this year. Our team immediately changed the format of our activities. While in the past seven years we tried to bring international artists, exhibitions and expertise to Ukraine, this year we have changed the vector of our work and are cooperating only with Ukrainian photographers: to support them, to tell the stories from Ukraine to the world. Just like most Ukrainian photographers became war photographers in one night, so our festival became an agency to some extent. We collect photos from authors who are keeping record of the war events, and we try to show them to the world via publications, exhibitions and presentations. That's why I would like to extend my gratitude to CPF for giving us a voice and an opportunity to have this exhibition under its umbrella. Unfortunately, neither our team, nor the photographers can participate in CPF, but it is more important that the audience will see the works of Ukrainian artists at the group exhibition – their stories and what they see in Ukraine every day.” What was the curatorial process like for you, given that the exhibition contains photos of artists who, during one night, had to adjust to becoming war photographers on the front lines? “I personally cannot work with neutral topics, when there is war in my country, when hundreds of innocent people die every day. That’s why in March I prepared ‘The Thin Line’, a few weeks after the escalation. That was the time when we the shock was still new, but we were starting to adjust our daily life to the new normal – the life in between air raid sirens, shortage of products, panic attacks, constant relocations in search of temporary housing, and hiding in bomb shelters. The thin line between two absolutely opposite states – war and peace – was particularly acute. I wanted to convey these feelings, not through contrasts of happiness and misery (because this is not quite accurate), but through the series demonstrating ordinary day-to-day life before the war next to photos of, unfortunately, our new ordinary. The visual line between these photos is thin. The common narrative of daily life, which continues regardless of conditions, unites them. This exhibition encompasses 41 photos of various photographers. Some of them began shooting at the front line when the war started, others are volunteers and now involved in activities beyond the area of their qualification, but all of them are in Ukraine, adjusting to the new reality every day. I have been working with most Ukrainian photographers for the last eight years, that’s why it was not difficult to compile ‘peaceful life’ series. It was only important to know that photographers are in a safe place and can provide their materials for printing. As for war photos, I have been keeping in touch with 24 Ukrainian photographers that take pictures of war and its aftermath, because I have been trying to help them since the first day: I receive photos from them, make selections and offer them to international media. This is how we raise awareness about the real situation at the front line, and support photographers with fees. That’s why I have access to the photos of this period. The most difficult thing is to write to photographers, asking ‘How are you?’ Nobody gives a true answer, but I am happy when I can at least get a quick response from them.”

Can you choose one photo from the exhibition to share the story behind it? “It is hard to choose only one photo, because I believe all of them are powerful visual messages with a unique story behind them. One of the photos of Volodymyr Petrov, taken on 4 March 2022, shows a shelled bus windshield. We can see a road and several people walking with bags through a web of cracks and bullet holes. Their life goes on; it goes on behind this windshield, which will never be used again, which failed to save several people from death. The broken glass became a line between death and life. The bus was machine-gunned, and several people were killed. The photo of Mikhail Palinchak shows a woman’s hand with a tattooed Ukrainian map outline. The clenched fist demonstrates the resilience of both the country and its people. This is a story about courageous women and men, who risk their lives every day to defend their country and their future. It is also important to remember that people with patriotic tattoo captured by Russians are at a higher risk of being severely tortured or even killed.” Visit also our Guest-Room May 2022. Curator Kathrin Schönegg has decided to collaborate with Kateryna Radchenko in the form of visual pairings, exploring the theme ‘wild loneliness’.

Olena Morozova: ‘Granny’

Olena, you have been working with photography since 2015, with a special interest in the themes spirituality, sexuality, gender identity, stereotypes, psychological and mental disorder, and family relationships. Odesa Photo Days presents your exhibition ‘Granny’ at this year’s Copenhagen Photo Festival. Can you tell us more about the project? “I started researching the problem of dementia when my grandmother was diagnosed with it. We talked about her illness so that she does not lose touch with reality. I also involved my children in this process, which was very helpful. Glimpses of her complex and interesting character are like pearls that you acquire through the hard work of constant communication. These moments dear to our hearts, the chronicle of the struggle against ‘the darkness’ and visions from a past life: military childhood, interesting youth, medical practice in the cruel inhuman conditions of the Russian hinterland, are the essence of the project, which has become more than a project for me. At a certain moment, I felt the need to photograph her in those moments when she talks about her visions. I have traced a clear relationship between memories, strong impressions and fears from my grandmother's past and painful visions in the present. There is no happy ending in this struggle, the illness always wins, and this dread is visible. When phantasmagorias merge with reality it's always scary, and the only thing that can help is the attention of relatives and closeness.” Your grandmother dedicated her life to being a respected gynaecologist and women’s advocate in Ukraine. How do you consider the practice of photography relevant in the support of persons who suffer from dementia? “According to the WHO, in 2015 there were more than 46 million people with dementia worldwide. 7.7 million new cases are reported yearly, each one becoming a significant burden on families and health systems. Dementia is an acquired degeneration of the brain, characterised by a persistent decrease in cognitive activity with a loss of previously acquired knowledge and practical skills. From the very first manifestations to severe forms, patients require care and social support. We have learned how to prolong life, but we have not learned how to prolong quality of life. Dementia is a very serious problem for humanity, but people do not attach much importance to it. That is why I think it is worth drawing attention to this problem in any way possible. A photograph is the clearest and most understandable way to tell us about this problem. And in my grandmother's case, my photography practice with her helped her a lot. We talked a lot, I showed her pictures, and she loved both the process and the photos, especially the ones of her with the children. Grandma liked being the centre of attention, she felt important and needed, like she used to feel when she was saving people's lives, although she didn't really understand why I was always taking photos and videos of her.”

Can you choose one photo from the exhibition to share the story behind it with our community? “My grandmother had many different medical instruments, doctor's gowns and medicines at home. She was a gynaecologist and also worked in the ER for a while. Since I was a child, my granny told me many stories from her practice about how she saved people's lives, mostly women and children. One day I looked in the drawer of the nightstand and found an old frontal reflector there. I showed it to my youngest son, explaining that his grandmother used it when she was examining patients and then I put it on him. It immediately occurred to me that my granny had transformed from a doctor into a patient, and me and my children were her doctors now. That's how this picture came about.”