The Polish photo festival embracing hope and optimism

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© Agnieszka Sejud.

The 2023 programme holds space for Odessa Photo Days and Month of Photography Minsk for a second year, both of which cannot take place domestically due to war and oppression

“Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope,” Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, her homage to activism in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq. Published in 2004, Solnit’s book reflects on the previous decade, arguing that times of turmoil and despair provide fertile ground for the collective power of hope as a tool of resistance. Two decades on, despite new challenges and new wars, Solnit’s sentiment still rings true. Inspired by Solnit’s writing, Hope is the theme of this year’s Fotofestiwal in Łodź, Poland – a country historically ravaged by war and division that understands the profundity of hope only too well.

“After two dramatic years that shaped most of the current narratives in Eastern Europe and the world, we decided to centre on the hopeful scenarios,” explains Krzysztof Candrowicz, who co-directs the festival with Marta Szymańska. Fotofestiwal launched in 2001, organised by a group of sociology students and teachers, and supported mainly Polish and Eastern European artists. It has evolved over the years, as the platform increasingly reaches for global narratives. Celebrating its 22nd edition, this year’s festival is committed to sustainability and inclusivity. “We believe that festivals such as Łodź can inspire and touch wide audiences,” Candrowicz says.

Wata Na Life, commissioned by BJP x Wateraid © Ngadi Smart.
© Chloé Azzopardi

Comprising seven core exhibitions, the international programme highlights “forms of resistance, support and cooperation” as expressed by artists from Europe, South America and the Middle East. In Our Hands, a group show featuring the work of Ursula Biemann, Rami Hara and AVAH (Afghan Visual Arts & History), rallies against issues crippling the anthropocene – such as colonialism, racial hegemony and human and natural exploitation – with optimistic narratives for change. There is also Nadège Mazars’ Mama Coca, curated by Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo, which documents the role of the Indigenous Guard in the Cauca Department, Colombia, in teaching local communities about preserving indigenous traditions. 

Beyond the themed events, a number of activities take place around Łodź. Grzegorz Przyborek’s Silence is an antidote to the political debates underpinning the festival. He explores the visual equilibrium between spaces and objects by constructing sets that ask the viewer to be present and mindful. “Being in contact with Przyborek’s artwork, in which the arrangement and order of the composition lead to aesthetic pleasure, can be felt like relief after a long scream,” says the show’s curator Dominika Pawełczyk. The festival’s Open Call includes Ngadi Smart, winner of BJP x WaterAid Climate Commission in 2021. Her project Wata Na Life saw Smart travelling to Sierra Leone to observe the challenges of water scarcity and climate change.

© Santiago Escobar Jaramillo
© Rami Hara.

For a second year, the festival invites Month of Photography in Minsk and Odesa Photo Days – both of which cannot take place domestically due to war and oppression – to collaborate. A large industrial space in Łodź will show works by artists from Belarus and Ukraine, and The Transition State, showcasing 30 years of protest photography from Ukraine, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, curated by Kateryna Radchenko. “Perhaps the biggest challenge facing contemporary festivals is to engage the youth and create an event that can reach multigenerational audiences,” Candrowicz explains of the need to keep the programme fresh. “To avoid feeding the old-school, conservative and competitive mindset, we take our collective consciousness back to the 20th century to picture the people and communities who bring back hope in humanity.”

Fotofestiwal Lodz is on from 15 to 25 June 2023

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.