And this is the back of the hotel.
And the building in front of the hotel
Friday my alarm clock actually works to time, and I get up and have breakfast at 8am. I've arranged to meet Kate at 1.30 for lunch, and before that I'm planning to see as many of the shows as possible.
Breakfast at the hotel is my favourite meal in Poland, with a good choice of ham, cheese, salads etc and I make the most of it, although none of the others I know are up as early.
The shows don't open until 10am, and I've time for a short wander before then, although it is raining slightly. Still, I've got my umbrella, so I set off, taking a few pictures (previous page.)
The first show I visit is at the Galeria Fotografii B&B which features 3 landscape photographers from China, Dalag Shao, Du Shao and Jiaye Shao.
It's perhaps a curious choice of work when so much new is coming out of China, because this is work that is very much of the past, and represented an outdated tradition even when it was made.
Pictorialism flourished and then went out of fashion among serious art photographers in the west in the early decades of the last century. Its apogee was in the work of photographers such as Edward Steichen and Alvin Langdon Coburn and the magazine Camera Work, which announced its demise in the final issues which featured the very different photography of the young Paul Strand in 1916 and, more definitively, in the final double issue of 1917.
It took a few years for photographers such as Edward Weston to take up the message in a new modernist vision in the 1920s, but essentially photography had changed.
Except of course in the world of amateur photography, where pictorialiasm continued to flourish, in America under the auspices of the Photographic Society of America (PSA), in England with the Royal Photographic Society, and in similar reactionary bodies around the world. And, on the evidence of this show, in China.
Pictorialism had - like other movements in art in the mid to late nineteenth century - been influenced by the art of the far East, although more so by that of Japan than China.
Although the work of the three generations of photographers in the Shao family was not identified on the walls, with a little help from the catalogue it became relatively easy to distinguish them.
For me the most interesting were the oldest, the work of Du Shao (1910-70) which perhaps also most strongly reflected Chinese traditions of image-making. He apparently turned particularly to landscape (and still-life) photography after the communists came to power in 1950.
I particulalry liked the light in some of the images by his son, Jiaye Shao (b1939), which often make use of mist and breaking weather.
Dalang Shao's pictures too often felt to me like formal exercises, clever but somehow lacking in feeling. My feeling there was very similar to that I had later in the day when looking at the work of MIchael Kenna. I could certainly admire the compositional and craft skills, but was left wondering who the photographer was and what he had to say. His work that has been very successful in the international competitions of the PSA and the FIAP, as well as being published in photography magazines across the world, and it is easy to see why, but these were images that left my soul hungry.
The large colour prints of Alex ten Napel's young swimmers are impressive, and dominated the smallish gallery in the Regionalny Osrodek Kultury in which they were shown. Simple but powerful, reduced to heads and shoulders - or just heads - emerging from the clean blue chlorinated water, retaining little or no vestige of their differing social backgrounds, photographed bathed in a diffuse revealing light against a spotless white studio background.
This was the Dutch nation, living close to water and often below its level, where water is always a threat and the ability to swim a vital living skill.
Later, talking to Alex and in his presentation during the 'Maraton' I learnt more about the way he work s and the techniques he uses. And about the kind of person he is, which - as it should - bears a clear relation to this work. There is a strong feeling of calm and caring in these images, made as he stands there in the water with these dripping children, facing them and waiting patiently for the moment when something in their expression or gesture reveals the kind of transparent essence for which he is searching.
Some of the images show two or even three children, and these were presented within the same size image. I did feel that this was perhaps unfortunate. This is a very democratic work, and perhaps all should have been given representation on the same scale. I mentioned this to Alex when we were talking in the bar the following evening and was interested to find that he had considered the same idea.
I also felt that the work was rather crowded in the relatively small gallery space. Although it was good to see so much, ideally it would have been in a much larger space.
I feel I am probably the wrong audience for Mitra Tabrizian's 'Beyond the Limits' in the adjoining room. Made in 2000-1, these large colour prints are constructed fragments of a future 'everyday life' which contain some disjunction, something wrong.
In making and talking about these works, Mitra supposes a certain detailed reading of them. But no two people ever see the same picture, and my own reading in front of these pieces is very divergent from hers. I feel her use of theory is to restrict the image, to try and impose a particular interpretation, and one that I often cannot share. For me, photographs once created have a live of their own, creating different resonances and forging differing meanings, raising different questions and possibilities in the minds of its different viewers.
As someone whispered in my ear later, photographs shouldn't need explanations, they should be photographs.
That isn't to say I don't find some of her pictures interesting - I do - but I think for rather different reasons than she intends. And I don't mean to belittle her work in any way when I open another can of worms and say that I regard it more as illustration that uses photographic methods rather than photography as I understand it. Illustration is a tradition that includes many of the greatest artists including some of my great heroes such as William Blake, while photography is perhaps rather earthier.
Back to my own reading. I'm a photographer and I'm afraid my first thought in front of her night image of an illuminated office building was about pincushion distortion. I know that I'm looking at a photograph, and the fact that a man appears to be falling down in front of a building is pretty commonplace, the kind of thing any advertising photographer might be asked to do.
I do wonder if it was done in Photoshop or comped in, or whether she got someone like my friend Dave who used to make people fly in films before such things went electronic in on the act. (Mitra later tells me it was all shot direct onto 4x5 without aid of Photoshop.)
I seem to see a shadow of the man as he falls on the wall slightly above and behind. Its something I wouldn't expect to be there normally, and an indication that this was set up for the camera, with a light to ensure that the man stood out clearly in the picture.
The real thing that I find wrong however in this image is not the falling man but his tie. It is hanging down, clearly indicating a man suspended in front of a building rather than a falling man.
This is also a picture of the future, but made some six or seven years ago, and is now set clearly in the past, overtaken by the evolution of display devices, clearly dated by the many CRT screens visible in the brightly lit offices.
History has also overtaken it in the shape of 9/11 and the images of people jumping from the twin towers. Images have meaning through their correspondence and difference from other images, and looking at the image with the sheep, my mind pumps Glyndebourne with Tony Ray-Jones (and Bill Brandt) as well as Telly-Tubbies and a kind of f**ked up fuzzy-felt nursery perspective.
Pictures such as Mitra's are interesting in that they make us think. For me, some of them do and others don't hold much interest. What I don't want is to be told what I ought to be thinking.
(continued on next page.)