Fotofestiwal Łódź channels the spirit of freedom

From ‘After’ series © Martin Kollar. All images courtesy the artists and Fotofestiwal Łódź

The Polish festival returns for its 23rd edition, employing a loose thematic approach and referencing European conflicts past and present

The directors of the 23rd Fotofestiwal have opted to make their rejection of a theme into a theme itself. Freeing/Letting go/Release/Liberation are listed as prompts but none is elevated to an organising principle. “Fotofestiwal 2024 took the idea of letting go, to encounter a loose approach, paired with multiple readings,” the statement says. Previous themes have included Hope (2023), Community (2022) and Supernatural (2019). This year’s artists are invited to “break free from outdated sociopolitical structures… as well as from visual contexts and boundaries that seem to limit our perception,” while the curators profess to be “dedicated to the process of freeing and liberation”.

© Magda Hueckel
© Michalina Kacperak

“Łódź is renowned for its film school, ‘with virtually every Polish film-maker of substance in the postwar years passing through its doors’, according to The Guardian

Fotofestiwal 2024 features 29 projects alongside partner events, concerts, screenings and networking. In the main programme, Martin Kollar presents After, a body of work drawn from an extensive archive the Slovakian artist revisited in the wake of his partner’s death in 2019. Foam Talent 2022 awardee Diego Moreno – who was a BJP One to Watch in 2016 – presents his Malign Influences project, a series of graphic interventions on photographs from his family archive. The project details the experience of navigating his sexuality in Catholic Mexico (Moreno was an altar boy for 12 years, describing the “indirect abuse” he suffered). And Spanish artist Gloria Oyarzabal, whose Woman Go No’Gree won Łódź’s Grand Prix Fotofestiwal in 2019, will show works interrogating the role of museums in colonial legacies, featuring her diptych images of sculptural artefacts in museums and public spaces.

The programme also looks east and south, taking advantage of Fotofestiwal’s central European position. The six Open Call projects address shifting ideas of nation and geography. Tomasz Kawecki’s In Praise of Shadow uses darkness to explore animism and landscapes in Nowa Ruda, a Polish town near the Czech border, while Camilla de Maffei has long explored the postwar period in Bosnia and Herzegovina, often working with journalists and non-profits. Artists from Ukraine and Belarus will also be represented via a photobook exhibition, while Odesa Photo Days director Kateryna Radchenko will lecture on vernacular photography in wartime.

© Diego Moreno

Fotofestiwal extends into various venues across the city, with four Polish artists premiering projects. Łódź is renowned for its film school, “with virtually every Polish film-maker of substance in the postwar years passing through its doors”, according to The Guardian. The school’s Szklarnia Gallery hosts a solo show by Grzegorz Wełnicki, who concludes a 13-year project in No’am, which focuses “on the human being in the context of his passing fear of death and the search for salvation in transhumanism”. At Re:Medium Gallery, Weronika Gęsicka shows Encyclopedia in collaboration with Jednostka Gallery, addressing how fake information can circulate via sources of alleged authority such as databases and encyclopaedias. Conceptualist Przemek Dzienis and theatre photographer and director Magdal Hueckel complete the programme, with the latter using collage to explore representations of the female body in Poland.

Wełnicki, himself a master’s graduate in photography from Łódź Film School, is also one of five artists invited by Futures Photography to collaborate during the festival. Karolina Gembara, Maria Guțu, Michalina Kacperak and Mykhaylo Palinchak will join him in a slideshow, while also participating in Photo-Match, Fotofestiwal’s laid-back take on traditional portfolio reviews. Structured as an open networking event, Photo-Match will include short presentations and informal meetings over two days.

From the series 'Now is not the right time' © Peter Pflügler
From the series 'The Great Father' © Camilla de Maffei

Fotofestiwal – the 23rd International Festival of Photography in Łódź, is at various venues across the city from 13 to 23 June

Ravi Ghosh

Ravi Ghosh is the deputy editor at British Journal of Photography. Previously, he was an editor at Elephant magazine and worked on the Life & Arts supplement at the Financial Times. He writes on arts and culture for The Guardian, Prospect, Tribune, i-D, Bandcamp, RA Magazine and more. He has also written photobook introductions for Tony Mak and Portrait of Humanity.