After three years of holding Odesa/Batumi Photo Days Ukrainian and Georgian cities got their own photo festivals, which have been already honored by professionals. To your attention there is an interview with Katerina Radchenko, the head and founder of Odesa Photo Days. The interview is about places, what they have already visited, where are going and whether is possible to reach the place, which is forbidden.

This year is hold the forth Odesa Photo Days. What progresses and changes have taken place comparing with previous years?

In fact, it is incredibly difficult to talk about results when you are founding the festival, when you are within the process, but it is possible to notice external stuff, for instance, the amount of audience increases every year. I remember the first year, nearly 100 people have arrived and the atmosphere was really cool and 100 people were partying all together. Last year I have already totally lost the understanding of people who had come to us: there were too many faces, so it was even hard to meet all.

Kateryna Radchenko

This year is the same: we organized a lot of events to involve different photographers. For example, we made an event with teenagers, consequently, we involve their parents, also we try holding more master classes in street photography, in this way we involve many different groups of photo environment. Of course, one of the major events this year is the visit of Alec Soth, a photographer from Magnum. I probably don’t realize completely, how cool this step is, but comments of directors from other festivals are helping, Finnish museum of photography congratulated our program and us and organizers of Month of photography in Minsk and curators from Poland. When professionals from abroad comment your festival and say that this year you made a great job, for me it is the important indicator.

What is your kind of litmus test, which helps you to understand your own level?

Well, when you realize everything is going to be fine this year. Because when you work inside, you have no time to interpret processes, to evaluate them. Ukrainian audience response differently, it is less spoiled than international society.

This festival had begun as Odesa/Batumi Photo Days. Why the separation is now, and whether you plan to return to the joint conduct?

We don’t plan “burning our boats”, furthermore, this year our friends and partners from Batumi’s group are coming, however in three years became clear these two cities need two different approaches, there are two various contexts. This year the festival in Batumi is held in September, as always, even so, it is separate Batumi Photo Days. We have split up by all accounts: we have different websites and media. The only thing we have in common is Facebook account, but we will soon start setting apart the audience. The major moment is representation of totally different contexts. Batumi style doesn’t work in Odesa and vice versa. When we have launched festival, Odesa’s team went to Batumi to make it there. At that time, a strong team in Batumi had taken shape, so there was no sense to go there and organize. In fact, making two festivals during the year is superhard.

Some of my friends, not photographers, think the festival is all-Ukrainian, and they are surprised when find out it isn’t so. Did you have any thoughts to hold the festival in other cities?

Nowadays, the festival takes place only in Odesa. Last year we held some events in other cities, there were presentations of festival in the format of night showings. Six cities were involved. This year we realized, first, it is physically demanding; second, though we are interested in events all over Ukraine, they only could take place beyond festival period, because all recourses work for Odesa at the time of festival. Out of festival we organize master classes for teenagers, lections; last year in Kyiv there was an exhibition of the group Sputnik from Warsaw.

How does Odesa, south, relaxed and a bit conservative city, though is shown as “open to the world”, treat the festival? Especially this year, the subject is forbidden territories.

The subject of the festival always has social aspect. Perhaps, the topic of this year’s Odesa Photo Days is a response to a question on perception of the festival by our city. Actually, I guess, it is easier to organize the festival in Vinnytsia, Kharkiv, Kyiv or Lviv, than in Odesa.

Probably it is not very appropriate to ask in its fourth year, why have you chosen Odesa for holding the event?

It was easy, I am from Odesa, and even so many of my projects take place on different locations throughout Ukraine, this is the only project which I always wanted to hold in my native city. I predicted there would be some difficulties; however I expected them for a maximum of first two years, but certainly not for four.

Funding of festival is provided by partnership, if I understand this correctly?

Partly, we offer partnership participation on locations; therefore we have space in free use for events from the owners. In practice, the budget of the festival is zero for four years. The entire team work on a volunteer basis, there is no opportunity to make money on festival, so this is a conscious choice of each member, who gets into. Lecturers we bringing get paid by international cultural instrumentality of their countries.

For the second straight year our partner is Hellenic Foundation for Culture, they help to provide the lecturer’s arriving. Austrian Embassy assists our Austrian guests. Naturally, we often can’t find assistance quickly. For instance, last year the main curator of festival was in Singapore, and we didn’t know to whom apply for funding, because Ukraine doesn’t have Singaporean Embassy and almost no diplomatic relations with this country. Hence, we had to use crowd funding and collected partial amount. Later at the last moment partner organization has been found, it paid the ticket by the amount we needed. So every time there are huge risks on our part, we still don’t know how it will work out, however we were aware of it from the very beginning.

How often, while looking for partners, do u meet situations when people don’t understand why you have chosen certain subject to be major one of the festival?

People often don’t get the point why it is the photo festival; sometimes we even don’t go so far to discuss the topic.

Does the choice of the subject is connected with Ukrainian or global background? What does influence you in communication field?

One of the reasons is the city. Nowadays, it is one of the biggest tourist centers of Ukraine, which is a conception of openness and hospitality. But in fact, here everything is not as it should be in an open tourist city – both in political and social terms. For example, we are constantly faced with difficulties in finding partners from hotel and restaurant business; here we don’t often meet openness to cooperation with the artistic product, as in other cities of Ukraine. In most cases, our efforts remain unsuccessful. In fact, partnership simply means giving discounts to the participants of the festival at the time of its holding.

In our society there plenty of closed subjects, especially historic ones, some groups would like to forget, not to speak and keep silence about them. They don’t visualize themselves in media, because otherwise they raise misunderstanding between certain population groups. That’s why we interested in making a main exposition about forbidden topics, making it worldwide; getting to know what and where is prohibited. And it was an incredible experience. we received 212 applications and for two weeks of selection I have found out about the world more than for the last five years. It has happened only because of photography. Of course, we don’t have an opportunity to show people all these stories, due to this, only 29 series are going to be represented on the main exhibition.

How often, while looking for partners, do u meet situations when people don’t understand why you have chosen certain subject to be major one of the festival?

People often don’t get the point why it is the photo festival; sometimes we even don’t go so far to discuss the topic.

Does the choice of the subject is connected with Ukrainian or global background? What does influence you in communication field?

One of the reasons is the city. Nowadays, it is one of the biggest tourist centers of Ukraine, which is a conception of openness and hospitality. But in fact, here everything is not as it should be in an open tourist city – both in political and social terms. For example, we are constantly faced with difficulties in finding partners from hotel and restaurant business; here we don’t often meet openness to cooperation with the artistic product, as in other cities of Ukraine. In most cases, our efforts remain unsuccessful. In fact, partnership simply means giving discounts to the participants of the festival at the time of its holding.

In our society there plenty of closed subjects, especially historic ones, some groups would like to forget, not to speak and keep silence about them. They don’t visualize themselves in media, because otherwise they raise misunderstanding between certain population groups. That’s why we interested in making a main exposition about forbidden topics, making it worldwide; getting to know what and where is prohibited. And it was an incredible experience. we received 212 applications and for two weeks of selection I have found out about the world more than for the last five years. It has happened only because of photography. Of course, we don’t have an opportunity to show people all these stories, due to this, only 29 series are going to be represented on the main exhibition.

And are there any topics that go through works of a large number of participants from different countries?

A lot of European photographers’ series are devoted to the issue of refugees, and it also shows what topics are currently relevant in Europe. But we did not take such series and quite consciously – this topic isn’t new for us, and we would like to give space for new discussions.

Do you feel you will manage to start the discussion within the festival about “prohibited themes”? Because we know such local events pretty often are aloof; especially when attacks against participants have increased recently as happened with the festival Docudays.

We wanted to stimulate discussion within photo community, above all. The festival had arisen as backlash from the war, so, it was important to show not only nice pictures, also to develop communication field for photographers and its community. However, unfortunately, most of discussions are not beyond social networks.

Last year there was an attempt to launch a discussion with photographers Sergey Lebedinckiy and Konstantin Chernichkin on the topic of conceptual and documentary photography. It might have been a reaction on accident which happened to photographer Muravskiy, who had made the book about conflict in the East, where all pictures were whether posed or mounted in Photoshop. That has began debates over legitimacy of this, especially in wartime. And we would really like to bring it outside the Internet.

The same story happened to the project Another Crimea, when 7 photographers from different prestigious agencies had to make a project about Crimea on Russia’s command. That time names of authoritative agencies were used for a good propaganda picture. Of course, this provoked intensive discussions within Ukrainian social networks. But the issue is that both first and second situations haven’t overstepped the network. We have made some publications in the Internet media and that’s all. Unfortunately, we came to the conclusion that the audience isn’t ready to pose questions or to engage in dialogue in lively debates.

This year we planned to launch discussion about Ukrainian photo market, which doesn’t exist still. We were going to invite gallery owners, who work with Ukrainian photography; however we have seen they aren’t interested in discussion of this topic.

Any of series can’t be describe as provocative though even colors of our logo can be describe so. The reaction illustrates the level of educational attainment of the audience. If you don’t understand, you will be afraid; if you’re afraid, you won’t accept.

Who does make a choice of final composition of the major exhibition of the festival? How is the selection going?

This year there were three curators. There were Tetyana Kochubinskaya from the research platform of the PinchukArtCentre, Ksenia Malykh, curator of the Closer gallery in Kyiv, and I. Our selection has been lasting for two weeks, so it’s time to spill the beans, how it was going. There were 212 authors, that’s why we have created a table for 212 names, where each of us, firstly had to evaluate by “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe” by viewing works. Three “No” were set back, three “Yes” were accepted, and majority was with mixed grades, of course, where we couldn’t make a single choice. In this case we have made three phases of communication; at the time of it we were discussing every series and author, their conceptions. When we had chosen final works, it turned out that we have to exceed the previous maximum of the amount of series. Initially there have to be 25, we decided to choose 29. Then there was a discussion in the exposition space, the Odesa literary museum, with the only goal of creating a single story within its framework. Let’s see how we succeeded, because, in reality, this space is incredibly challenging for exhibiting.

Do you personally buy Ukrainian photography?

Yes.

What’s the last work you have bought?

The work of Sergei Melnichenko, his early period, was shoot in Mykolaiv. Sergey had collected money for the help for his friends and within this he had sold his works, then I bought it. I also have some authors I really like, but I’m still collecting money for their work.

Are they Ukrainian authors? Who does determine the price of their works if there is no market?

Yes, I only buy work by Ukrainian photographers and more often the author determines the price of the work by himself. I also buy amateurish archival photography, look for family archives at flea markets. Last year I published the book how to read family, vernacular pictures, which are based on archives.

What events have become or could have become highlights of your job within the festival?

When I see how amateur photographers have risen sharply after the festival, gain awards, make exhibitions abroad – it is the most important for me. Especially it feels when I teach teenagers or children and later I notice how their perspectives of photography and life have changed; they take pictures differently. During the preparation and holding of the festival we get closer with participants and guests and afterwards we try to stay in touch, to monitor their activities.

What hopes do you have for future festivals, how do you see the development of the idea in a few years?

I would like to make the event a kind of intersection of paths and cultures, a platform for gaining experience and exchanging contacts. I also want to bring even more of unique unknown photos. I have a dream to bring the series from Mongolia. Of course, it depends on city, where the festival will take place and whether will give locations for holding it. If there are none of basics terms, the festival will go to another city.

That is, even such an option is considered?

It is possible.

Then I wish that this won’t happen, and, on the contrary, the value of your work will be adopted with gratitude and willingness to help. Finally, what event of the festival would you personally recommend to visit?

The truth is hard to be guided by the “best” category, but the exhibition of Paraska Gorytsvit is very close to me, it will be held in the “Invogue” gallery. I have been working with her archives for a very long time, and each time I look at these photos, I feel such a strong positive attitude to life, despite the heavy destiny she had.

She was in exile in the camps since she was 20 years old and didn’t find any sympathy of society after she had returned. However, she took pictures, painted, wrote books. Her work is alive, with it own distinctive energy. Every time, when I look at them, think about how incredibly cool she was.

Interview by Sasha Naselenko

Photos: Odesa Photo Days

 

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