The 15-25 of June 2023 will be the 22nd time that Fotofestiwal invites curators and artists to Lodz in Poland. This summer, the festival puts photography on the agenda under the theme of Hope. Exhibited works will focus on inspiring characters, bold artists, and united communities, who show that commitment as well as caring for one another and for our nearest environment can lead the way toward regaining a lost sense of agency. A special Talent Futures slideshow will feature projects that are close to contemporary Europe: One of them is the photographic series No tears left to cry on the war in Ukraine by Der Greif Alumni Marcin Kruk. We invited him to answer some questions for our community.
Der Greif: Marcin, your documentary project “No tears left to cry” is a story about civilians going through the Russian invasion on Ukraine. You started this project in the first days of the war in February 2022. Do you want to share some personal thoughts on the project? How did you experience the past year?
Marcin Kruk: Without a doubt, the past year was very hard. I was, and in fact still am, moved by the dramatic stories of the people I spoke to. Whether it was stories from Bucha, Lukashivka, Izuma, Kharkiv, or Yahidne. These are unimaginable dramas by which innocent Ukrainians were affected. As a documentary photographer and humanist, I consider it one of my duties to be socially useful. Being shocked by the Russian aggression, I decided to tackle this topic. Also, in some ways, it is a personal project for me. My great-grandparents and grandparents were forced to resettle from Ukraine to Poland in the 1940s. I was born in Ustrzyki Dolne, just 10 km from the PL-UA border. Ukrainians have always been in my life. I hope that my photos will one day be evidence of the war crimes committed by the Russian army. I will never forget the stories I heard. One by Mrs. Valentýna, 86, a retired mathematics teacher from Bucha. "It was the beginning of March. When I came home, I saw the door open" - she recalls. “In the living room, on this sofa” - pointing with her hand - “sat three young soldiers. Another four of them were searching the furniture for valuables. I asked - boys, what are you doing? We are looking for a Bandera, they replied. But Bandera, he is long dead. We are looking for the Bandera and the Nazis - it came out again, from the mouth of a looting soldier. When they left my flat, I went to the window. Frozen with fear, I wanted to see what was happening in the yard. I saw those young Russian soldiers, who had just looted my flat. After leaving the building, they shot my neighbor as she ran for water. She lived one floor above me." Three days later, the block of flats where Mrs. Valentýna lived was burnt down, due to shelling by the Russian army. While photographing her portrait in her burnt and destroyed flat, I noticed an overburnt icon on one wall. As it turned out, it was a souvenir from Cyprus that Mrs. Valentýna had brought with her to Ukraine many years ago. It was very important to her. She decided to give it to me to take it to Poland, as proof of the committed war crimes.
Der Greif: This year’s theme of Fotofestiwal Lodz is “Hope”, inspired by the words of American writer and activist Rebecca Solnit who stated that “hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope”. Your documentary work deals with the varied impacts of war on society. Do you find “hope” in the journeys and encounters you make during your project?
Marcin Kruk: I definitely do. I see it every day and every step of the way. From small volunteer initiatives to social movements committed to rebuilding the country, such as Repair Together or Livyj Bereh. I would also like to mention a very important issue, namely how the war in Ukraine has affected the growing public support for same-sex marriage and society's attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community. I am happy that the situation for LGBTQ+ people is improving and I hope that the Ukrainian parliament will legalize same-sex marriage in the near future. I also hope that the West will not only support Ukraine during the war but will also do so after the war, supporting it in its reconstruction and in its accession to the European Union and NATO, among other things.
Der Greif: You are also an active member of the Archive of Public Protests, created jointly by a group of Polish photographers. Please tell us more about the platform and why it is important to you.
Marcin Kruk: Yes, I am one of the co-authors of A-P-P. Our activity is focused on collecting all the visual traces of social activism, which are actually grassroots initiatives and forms of opposition against violations of the principles of democracy, human rights, and discrimination in the broad sense of the term: xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and climate catastrophe. The authors of the archive are visual artists, photojournalists, documentary photographers, and researchers: Michał Adamski, Marta Bogdańska, Karolina Gembara, Łukasz Głowala, Agata Kubis, Michalina Kuczyńska, Adam Lach, Alicja Lesiak, Rafał Milach, Joanna Musiał, Chris Niedenthal, Wojtek Radwański, Bartek Sadowski, Karolina Sobel, Paweł Starzec, Grzegorz Wełnicki, Dawid Zieliński. The idea behind A-P-P is to create an easily accessible collection that remains available to researchers, artists, and activists. The use of the archive's resources is open to everyone who expresses a preference for communicating the values with which we identify. Moreover, the idea behind it is to undertake performative actions that will enhance the causality of the images we create, including through the publication of the Strike Newspapers.
Der Greif: Last but not least, we would like to ask you what of all the things happening right now in contemporary photography particularly excites you in a positive way and gives you hope.
Marcin Kruk: I would like to refer to contemporary documentary photography. On the one hand, there are visual changes that have taken place in the last 20 years, among others since the publication of Infra by Richard Mosse.
Apart from the visual aspects, it is undoubtedly social activism.
Click here to explore the festival’s full exhibition and event program.