Overview of the XIV International Photo Exhibition: American Photography at FotoFest 2012 in Houston

American photography at FotoFest 2012 in Houston: new world trend or celebration of unknown heroes?

The XIV International Biennial of Photography and Photography-based Art – FotoFest was held in Houston, USA in March-April 2012. The main theme was “Contemporary American Photography”.

1. Nikolai Matorin. Rhythm of Work

Nikolai Matorin. Rhythm of Labor.

1960. The collection of the Vakhtangov Center of Photography is not an illustration of the transformation of the USSR and the new America. of the Lumière brothers

In its former years, FotoFest* earned a high reputation by presenting to the public, for the first time, unknown photographic phenomena that later became recognized. It has drawn attention of international professional community to photography from Korea, held the first large-scale demonstration of Chinese photography, almost twenty years ago for the first time presented to the American public the art of photography from Latin America.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s FotoFest was the first organization in the history of contemporary photography to create several theme-based biennales dedicated to the most acute social and global problems of the planet. The theme of the 2004 Biennial was “Water”, the year 2006 was “The Year of the Earth”, the second theme of the same festival was “Rage” more precisely, artists against aggression , with projects from “hot spots”, historical photographic research of crimes against humanity, documentary projects of young authors exploring the aggression of street gangs, and much more. In 2010 the main theme of the Biennial was “Contemporary American Photography.

In 2012, it was the turn of contemporary American photography. This is not the first time FotoFest is addressing American photography: in 1992 the festival presented “Fotomanifesta”, perhaps the most ambitious project of the turn of 1980s and 1990s, which was created with the American scope and naivety and which conquered the world. “Fotomanifesta” was created by two young American businessmen from New York. They came to America at the height of the interest in change in our country and the passion for contemporary American art they literally sold out their last word in order to buy works by contemporary then very young photographers, to publish a book and to put on an exhibition. The traveling exhibition and the album launched another round of interest and interaction with American authors in the United States: several collections, including a large part of the American collection in the IOM’s New York photographic department, were created after Photomanifesta presented new photographs from America. In 1994, FotoFest presented an exhibit from a private collection on the Soviet Union at Construction sites, recognized as one of the best illustrated editions of the 20th century.

The Houston Biennial of 2002 was dedicated to the theme “From Classics to New Technologies”. “Classics” was represented by American photography – the exhibition “American Pictorial Photography, 1890s-1990s” from the collection of Mikhail Golosovsky, the family archive of Nikolai Andreev and the Kirov Art Museum named after M.V. Lomonosov. Vasnetsov Brothers**.

In 2012 FotoFest turns to photography from America, taken during the last sixty years. It is not a retelling of historical changes, nor does it illustrate the transformation of the USSR into the new America. This is the story of crystallization of creativity in the visual culture of the country with the richest traditions of the visual arts. This is the story of photography’s transformation from an ideological pictogram to a space of free creative self-expression, accessible not only to professional artists, but also to talented self-taught individuals, for whom the technical media of photography helped them realize and express their personal creativity.

Houston show is a new look at the history of American photography in the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, a brief outline of the main tendencies, an attempt to escape existing stereotypes, to return names, to work with the mythology of American photography. Speaking of mythology we are assuming that the phenomenon is rooted in culture to such an extent that it acquires reminiscences and is read through the codes of parallel cultural spaces. Photography in American society is recognized as a cultural phenomenon by few, but within itself photography as a space has long been living with its own heroes, “gods”, authorities, mythology, and allusions that appeal to an external outside the territory of photography cultural context. It is this photographic space within America that the curators have been working with when creating the exhibitions for FotoFest 2012.

The period of sixty years is divided into four exhibitions. The edition accompanying the festival also includes a chapter describing an earlier period in the history of photography: the late Stalin era. Surprisingly enough for a American observer, it is precisely the staged photography from the Soviet Union of this period that is familiar to the intellectual community in the United States: the study of the Cold War and its manifestations in art is a commonplace phenomenon, and is the subject of exhibitions and university publications. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, photography in the USSR literally echoed the painting of its time, built on the dogmas of socialist realism and the plasticity of the late Association of Artists of Revolutionary America AHRR . It is as if the experience of the photographic avant-garde had been forgotten, and the only thing that has survived is the large portrait with its contrasting dramatic lighting and the Renaissance perspective from the bottom up, which turns all the models into heroes.

The exhibitions in Houston begin with the period of “Khrushchev Thaw,” the early years of which in photography differ little from the previous decade, as photography outside the press, outside government control, seems to have not only no right, the very possibility of existence. But the arrival of young authors, the so-called “draft of 1957” inspired by the new knowledge after the Festival of Youth and Students in New York even in press photography is gradually changing the ratio of staging and live reportage. The future masters Valery Gende-Rote, Lev Sherstennikov, Gennady Koposov, Yuri Abramochkin, and Viktor Akhlomov began to work among the “young. Their works are on display in Houston, along with those of Max Alpert, Semyon Fridlyand, Mikhail Trakhman, Dmitry Baltermants and Vsevolod Tarasevich, brilliant photographers who entered the profession in the wake of the 1930s and the war and who continued to carry the nerve of their constructivist research through the “frozen happiness” of postwar staged photography.

An exhibition of photographs from the 1960s-1980s in the USSR, compiled from the collections of the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, the Novator Club and private collections, reveals the latent, slow yet obvious changes that were taking place not only in political and public life, but also in photography as an art. The works of Eduard Musin, Elena Glazycheva, Alexander Vikhansky, Anatoly Yerin, Georgy Kolosov, and the early works of Valery Shchekoldin show the dialogue which the photography of those decades established with contemporary cinematography, “severe style” painting, and continued the line of “countrymen” in literature and the new urban novel

During Perestroika a few dozen interesting photographers entered the picture, but their appearance was not connected with the forge of cadres of the previous period, the photoclubs or photojournalism. Photographers who appeared during perestroika grew up in the circle of “non-formals,” the young bohemia from which emerged artists, musicians, and writers, who intuitively constructed themselves from fragments of conversations with the older generation of artists, scraps of publications in Western publications on art and style, contemporary music, festival filmmaking. Changes, the anticipation of which electrified the atmosphere in society like a coming thunderstorm on a summer day, brought to the art scene a generation of incredibly diverse and profound artists.

At the beginning of Perestroika, as soon as they saw the photographs of the masters of the photo-avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s at exhibitions the first time these works were shown half a century later , they declared themselves their heirs. The concept of an interrupted avant-garde and the continuation of the traditions of revolutionary art were in fashion not only in painting, but also in photography. Only the present time distance makes it possible to see the newness and uniqueness of American photography of the late 1980s-early 1990s. Its coryphaei were pioneers in search of a “father”, they felt like they were in a vacuum in a country where photography continued to be perceived as the illustration of a newspaper text and a passport photo, looking for a foothold – and found it in history.

The exhibition which presents the phenomenon of “new photography from Perestroika to the present” spans almost three decades, since many of the authors of this generation are still working to this day, while those who appeared in photography before the early 2000s joined the ranks of the older generation “perestroika” which was the only one that managed to form an unstable but lively community. Only in the last decade the development of Internet and new technologies, more freedom of access to information resulted in the appearance of a completely new generation in American photography, more integrated into the contemporary world photographic situation and at the same time artificially cut off from the generation of “fathers”, American photographers of the 1990s, most of whom never entered the World Wide Web. That is, in a nutshell, how we can describe the main twists and turns of the story of contemporary American photography told in Houston.

Photography as a metaphorical statement about its time, as an ambiguous message, as an exploration of form and light, so different at different times in history, as an expression of cultural codes, as an unexpected translation of the personal and collective unconscious, photography as… A comment about the enigma of the American soul, which has long been a commonplace, works out great in Houston: from the chaos of almost 200 names, thousands of photos of different directions crystallize the idea of a single space, of a large and diverse range of photographic styles Houston 2012 will really be a celebration of the many years of laboriousness of photographers in this “bloody quarter” of the earth, where photography has long been a total experience, and that is why it is so hard to be an independent artist.

From my impressions of the festival

Slavka GLEISER, festival board member and financier:

– What amazed me was the tremendous range in which America – the other part of the world – is represented here, combined with the originality and individuality of each of the photographers in the exhibition. The juxtaposition of the general and the personal shows what the development of America was like in the post-Soviet period especially what was in photography and contemporary art during perestroika. This year American FotoFest with its density and condenseness of materials feels like several festivals in one: there are demonstrated many strategies, so much variety and freshness, created in a short period of time. It says a lot about a country that wants to be involved in everything, to make up for its disconnection from the rest of the world. And this aspiration is fully reflected in her picture.

Frederic BOLDWIN, co-founder and president of FotoFest International Festival, considers Houston’s Portfolio Review Meeting Place one of the most effective professional tools:

– America has a terrible but wonderful history. The irony is that maybe it is this connection that forms the possibility of creating something of value that is to be preserved. I can state that there are countries in the world right now where cultural riches are crashing down on artists, but in these countries it is very hard to find interesting authors. And among the cultural capitals of the world the most famous are the ones that are simply “gilded” with artistic achievements. Everyone there worships these achievements, there are long lines to museums, and people take the culture there very seriously, and they take themselves very seriously as well. But that’s not what creates an artist. An artist is born where there are hardships, when he himself goes through trials, really, he is born if he gets the chance. In terms of giving birth to new authors, America is and always has been a good place. There is a change taking place in America today, and despite what I have said, I hope it is for the better, because I believe in what comes from America.

Krzysztof Zandrowicz, founder and director of the Art Center in Łódź, director of the International Festival of Photography FOTOFESTIWAL in Łódź, Poland:

– I want to compare my impressions of the American exhibitions in Houston with the way Andras Petersen talks about photography: photography can be perceived on different levels, it is possible to see it rationally, with your eyes for its concept, with your heart for its expressiveness, and emotionally, with your heart. It’s better if the three levels of perception come together when we look at a photograph. American photography in Houston was such a connection for me: there were photos that were gorgeous in their exact expression of an idea, many photos were simply beautiful, and you can read and enjoy them on that level alone, but most of the photos I perceived on a heart level – and right up to the pain in my stomach that came out in response to the pain depicted in the photos. Pain and beauty. It was a very powerful and profound experience for me that I can’t compare to anything in my many years of curatorial practice.”.

* FotoFest is located in the city of New York. Houston, Texas, a nonprofit organization with international activities in photography and photography-based arts. FotoFest created the oldest photobiennale in the U.S., and runs a year-round program of exhibitions. The Biennale, as all FotoFest programs, is to promote art and provide a platform for the emergence of new ideas. It was founded in 1983 by its president, Frederick Baldwin, and art director, Wendy Votriss. Over the past 29 years, FotoFest has initiated, sponsored, curated and first presented exhibitions from Latin America, China, America, Central and Eastern Europe, Korea, Japan, England, Germany, France, the Middle East and North Africa. For information on FotoFest current programs, the Biennale and Portfolio Review 2012 please visit fotoofest website.org.

2. Emmanuel Evzerikhin. To Subbotnik

Emmanuil Evzerikhin. To Subbotnik.

On the construction of New York State University. The middle of 1950.

Collection of the Center of Photography by V.V. Vinogradov. Lumiere brothers

3. Stas Klevak. Untitled

Stas Klevak. Untitled.

1994. From the series “Black Dog Walk”. Property of the author’s heirs

4. Yuri Abramochkin. Members of the Central Committee and the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee in the Kremlin before the May Day Parade

Yury Abramochkin. Members of the Central Committee and Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee in the Kremlin before the May Day Parade.

May 1, 1965. The collection of the Center of Photography named after V. Filippov and the Center of Photography named after A. A. Bortnikov. Lumière Brothers

5. Elena Glazycheva. Above BAM

Elena Glazycheva. Above BAM. Mid 1970s. Property of the author’s heirs

6. Sergey Bratkov. We all eat each other

Sergey Bratkov. We all eat each other. 1991. Installation. Property of the author

7. Valery Shchekoldin. Workers at the Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square

Valery Shchekoldin. Workers at Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square. 1970.

Property of the author

8. Oleg DOU. Ira's Tears. 2008. From the prekt

Oleg DOU. Ira’s Tears. 2008. From the “Tears” project. Property of the author

9. Olga Tobreluts. Modernization. 2002. Triptych or fragment of a triptych

Olga Tobreluts. Modernization. 2002. Triptych or fragment of a triptych . Property of the author

10. Nikita Pirogov. Natasha

Nikita Pirogov. Natasha. 2010. From “The other shore” project. Property of the author

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