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Interview with Karol Hordziej, Art Director of Krakow Photomonth

Since 2006, Karol Hordziej and his team have transformed Krakow, Poland, into an international destination for photography. Andrea Hill conducted this conversation with Hordziej, about the 2013 edition of Krakow Photomonth and the future of photography festivals, in person and over e-mail.

Above and below: Installation views of Krakow Photomonth 2013 exhibitions. Courtesy Krakow Photomonth.

Andrea Hill: Why have you chosen to focus the 2013 festival on fashion? Is fashion more or less relevant today as a tool for investigation than it was during the historical moments chronicled in the exhibitions?

Karol Hordziej: The decision had several motivations. One of them was a will to embrace fashion photography and show it as part of a larger context. Fashion photography is usually presented in fashion ghettos, outside of the artistic debate.

The only part of the program fully devoted to “real” fashion photography is an exhibition from the F.C. Gundlach collection. German photographer and collector Gundlach points out that for decades, fashion photography was able to capture the spirit of the times more effectively than photojournalism. It depicted dreams and hopes, while photojournalism focused on facts and events.

But fashion photography was not the center of our interest. We have focused on clothing and the cultural meaning of what we wear and how we wear it—without dividing everyday street clothing from haute-couture fashion. It’s more about a very broad definition of fashion that makes it such an interesting tool for the investigation of culture.

AH: Can you speak about the evolution of Photomonth during your tenure as art director and some of the past themes this festival has touched on?

KH: In 2006, when our team took over the festival, we began working with very general themes like “Youth” and with different guest countries like the UK and Poland. During these years we also produced several projects based on the idea of the artist as curator. Theaters of War by Mark Power was presented at the former Schindler’s Factory (where the Museum of Contemporary Art is currently located). In 2011, we invited Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin to be the guest curators of the entire main program, which resulted in the project Alias, which was based on the concept of exhibiting only fictional artists.

Alias was a turning point for the festival since it pushed the limits of what a photography festival could be. It garnered very positive feedback from the international art press but was too demanding for many visitors. After this edition we decided to establish a new arm of the festival called the Experimental Section, through which we could continue in this direction. The inaugural Experimental Section, in 2012, was advised by Charlotte Cotton and took form as the interactive, monthlong exhibition Photography in Everyday Life, which invited the audience to participate in its creation.

For future editions of Photomonth, we have decided to work with professional curators. For Photomonth 2014, we have invited Aaron Schuman to be the curator and I’m happy to confirm his participation!

AH: The medium of photography itself has experienced more change in the past decade than any other, what with the advent of digital methods of production and distribution. How has Photomonth responded to photography’s existential issues?

KH: The changes in photography related to the digital revolution were visible in our program mostly through specific art projects. In 2012, Jason Evans made an installation called Pictures for looking at and sculpture for photography. The audience was invited to interact with his sculptures, make their own photographs, and upload the images online. It was in the same gallery space where we exhibited Masao Yamamoto’s unique handmade prints several years earlier. I think that both shows are very relevant to the analog/digital discussion.

In general, our response has been channeled through an overall awareness of the material print and the physical experience of prints. Since you can now see so many great photographs online—and for free—it’s important that the experience of attending the festival be different. I believe that we get much more from images if we use not only use our eyes but all of our senses—when we have to move our bodies to look at an image.

The whole analog/digital discussion gets really interesting when it enters our daily lives. Yoachim Schimd stopped collecting pictures from the street because people no longer throw away pictures they don’t want anymore; they just delete them. At the same time, we all collect tons of images and are losing the skill to select what is really important. At Krakow Photomonth this year, we welcomed people to participate in our shows by bringing images from their own family archives. The most important factor in this participatory event was to teach people how to choose one image and tell a story. It sounds very banal but I believe it’s an important issue.

AH: Returning to the subject of broadening definitions, what are the wider possibilities for what a photography festival might be?

KH: I think there are many ways for photography festivals to go and it’s important that different models exist. I expect festivals to propose long-term ways of thinking. For example, it took us a few years to break down the wall between the contemporary art and photography audiences in Poland. We were also looking for models that work as year-long projects instead of singular events. We have formalized a part of the festival, which previously selected the best submitted artist projects, into ShowOFF, a new section intended to incubate young Polish photographers. In ShowOFF, five jury members choose ten artists to develop a project with them that will be produced for the festival, and we continue to promote the artists after the festival concludes. Since it’s very easy to travel between the various festivals, it makes sense to be attentive to current and local issues. I was speaking earlier about a participatory element. This is also crucial in the development of photography festivals. But of course the traditional role of the festival is to be an exhibition space and an international meeting place.

Andrea Hill is a New York–based curator and creative director of Paddle8, the online auction house for museums and non-profits.

The eleventh edition of Krakow Photomonth ran through June 16.