Krakow Photomonth has a reputation for change. Since starting back in 2001, it has adapted and transformed its identity, reacting to the changing face of photography through its programming, curators and exhibition spaces. Festival themes have covered anything from fashion to ‘Britain’, it has invited curators such as Aaron Schuman, Wojciech Nowicki and Charlotte Cotton to take over; and it has also installed shows everywhere from major art museums to small cafes and eateries.
This year, the 15th edition offers another spin on the idea. Gordon MacDonald, the UK-based artist and founding editor of Photoworks magazine, has curated the main programme of four key exhibitions under the loose title From the Outside Looking In. “Each one is different but shares a common concern for me about photography,” says MacDonald, adding he wanted to include contemporary debates on the veracity of images in this year’s festival.
“What is to be believed and what isn’t? That’s really my starting point – that most photographs are simultaneously real and fake,” he says. “Everything has a basis in both of these and they enact that simultaneously.”
MacDonald’s programme also contains many historical references, often through work which picks out forgotten or misrepresented events. Diana Lelonek’s work uses traces left on the site of the former Płaszów concentration camp, for example, and is shown in the former gatehouse of Schindler’s factory, a gallery within the Museum of Contemporary Art.
This work was a new commission made for Photomonth – a new venture for the festival but which may be a stronger strand in future, offering Polish artists the opportunity to investigate Polish themes. “It was probably not my place to be the one to investigate that because it’s a Polish history and it belongs to Polish people, so the idea to commission a young Polish person was the only option,” comments MacDonald.
He adds that he specifically wanted to commission a female photographer, given the very ‘masculine’ nature of the history of war. “The selection process [of the commission] was very organic,” he says. “There was a thought process of why an artist might get chosen for that space.”
The War from Here, shown in Bunkier – one of the only examples of Brutalist architecture in Krakow – builds on the idea of the masculinity of conflict, by choosing an all-female cohort. Martha Rosler, Lisa Barnard, Nina Berman, Sophie Ristelhueber and Monica Haller all show work questioning the constructs of documentary photography, for example, and the close relationship between cameras and instruments of war.
“The starting point was to start to think about mechanised warfare and photography having a very similar timelines and following each other very closely, from the manual camera and the canon, through to the smart bomb and the digital age,” says MacDonald. “They mirror each other, and their very masculine in those terms.”
The Grapevine series by American photographer Susan Lipper, meanwhile, focuses on the history of a small village in West Virginia, and challenges our belief in images labelled ‘photojournalism’, by interweaving a theatrical element. Lipper asked her models to assume characters that could essentially be them in the images; the result is a slippery, mysterious work.
As with previous editions, the main programme includes portfolio reviews by Polish and international critics, artists and publishers, including Gerry Badger (co-author of The Photobook: A History), Iris Sikking and Agnieszka Rayss, as well as workshops, film screenings, book launches and discussions. The ShowOff section, meanwhile, champions new projects by emerging photographers, selected from an open call – this year including work by Krzysztof Pijarski, Katarzyna Sagatowska, Szymon Rogiński and Salvatore Vitale. The Krakow Photo Fringe boosts the festival even more by adding satellite exhibitions and events dotted around the city centre.
For MacDonald, it all adds up to a very exciting event. “For me, they have the basis to be one of the most innovative festivals on the international festival scene, and they always have had,” he says MacDonald. “Krakow Photomonth constantly innovates.
“One of the problems of that might be that people don’t really know what they’re expecting, and it won’t establish itself as easily within the calendar – but on the other hand, that will give it longevity. It will offer opportunities to people within photography to do something different and do something challenging.”
Krakow Photomonth is open from 19 May – 18 June. https://photomonth.com