I was privileged to be invited to take part in the first FotoArtFestival held in Bielsko-Biala, Poland in June-July 2005. It was a small but significant event, showing the increasing importance of Poland and the eastern european countries formerly under soviet rule in the wider world of photography.
The festival set out to invite the best photographers in various fields from around the world, and included some well-known names - such as Eikoh Hosoe, Ami Vitale, Boris Mikhajlov and Malick Sidibe, as well as many rising stars and a few of those no longer with us, Mario Giacomelli, Inge Morath and Robert Diament.
The 26 major shows represented work from 25 countries - just one photographer from each, with a group show of older Polish photoreportage. It was truly an effort to be international, although concentrating on European countries, including Albania, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the Ukraine and of course the UK, as well Iran, Japan, Mali, South Africa and the USA. France and Switzerland were also represented, with a representative from Magnum and a presentation on the work of Werner Bischof.
It was a relatively small event compared with some of the more well-established festivals, but certainly far more human and friendly, and for most of us who attended an experience we will not forget.
On these pages are some of my snaps taken as a record of the event and the place. I took only a pocket-size Canon Digital Ixus, as I was not going to Poland to take photographs. The text comes mainly from a diary I tried to keep during the festival, and includes the introduction to the three talks I gave as a part of the proceedings there, which was largely rewritten in Bielsko-Biala in the early hours of Sunday morning.
I hate traveling, especially traveling by air. Endless waiting in arid lounges, surrounded by retail irrelevance, shops of pointless and unwanted items.
It's an enforced spell of purgatory, with what must be the most infuriating announcements ever devised to punish the lost souls, "Please enjoy the facilities in the lounge" in an irritatingly banal false female voice. You realise Douglas Adams traveled this way.
Eventually we are allowed to go through the departure gate, for yet another spell of waiting until we can clamber into a bus to be driven across the apron to the waiting jet.
After take-off I try to see where we are heading. The first place I can definitely place is Canvey island on the Thames estuary where I was taking pictures a couple of months back.
Two hours later we are bumping down through the clouds and into Krakow airport. Fortunately this is so small it takes a relatively short time to collect my case and go through to meet the driver who is to drive me and another festival visitor, Marta Daho of Magnum, to Bielsko-Biala.
Life imitates Art,
Art Imitates Nature.
Nature abhors a vacuum,
Life? Well, sometimes it happens.
Always it happens, magic or shit.
Bielsko was brimming with magic.
Madames et Messeiurs
English owes its prominence not only to US (and earlier UK) global economic and political domination, but to its flexibility and adaptability, which we systematically abuse.
Translation is a valiant attempt at the often impossible. Language operates at various sublevels of denotation and connotation, through allusion. It depends on shared experiences and understandings that are often very different.
Fortunately, communication happens, and it often happens most strongly across the crevasses between our languages as we struggle for understanding. We understand not from the smooth inter-meshing of gears than transmits the everyday niceties, but from the strands that stick in our teeth or the grit that lodges and may grow into a pearl. Or simply give us sore feet.
Yesterday I met an Angel
Yesterday I met an angel. Two angels to be precise, not on the head of a pin, but in Bielsko. Around 8 foot tall, dressed in white and the regulation pair of wings each, and she gave me a photograph and a feathered flower.
But Bielsko is the city of angels, because I met another one on Thursday evening. Inez, I appreciate from the depths of my heart all you have done for the festival. To borrow the words of one of my great musical heroes, "We love you madly."
[I think the official Polish translation for that last paragraph is something like 'Peter thanks Inez for all her work on the festival."]
This Morning, Luther
This morning I went in search of Poland's only statue of Martin Luther, in a small clump of trees in Plac Lutra.
This address begins for real with me nailing a few of my photographic theses to the door - fortunately rather fewer than his 95 - and saying 'Here I stand, I can do no other' - at least until I've had a few more beers. 'God help me, Amen.'
Less than 95 theses
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