How Come Photography in Minsk Attracts Thousands of Viewers?

On the eve of the opening of the third annual Month of Photography in Minsk, we talk to the project’s manager and photographer, Andrei Liankevich. He discusses the topics that unite photography professionals across continents, what will be replacing the traditional catalogue and how an ordinary photography exhibition can be transformed into a must-see event.

 We had been growing in scale over two years, covering not only Minsk but the whole of Belarus too. However, this year we have taken a different route—we have decided to explore the depths. As part of the festival we have only 11 exhibitions planned. This is almost half as many as last year. But from a context point of view, they are significant and surpass all the previous ones. For example, the Sochi Project will be presented. The author of the project, documentary photographer Rob Hornstra had been taking photographs of Sochi for over five years to show the city before the 2014 Olympics. The project has won various awards and prizes and has been shown in exhibitions from Russia to the USA. Finally, it will be presented in Belarus now.

In addition, we will be presenting the works of Katrīna Ķepule previously exhibited at the Riga Photomonth biannual photography festival in Latvia.

A big exhibition of contemporary Australian photography with works by five artists will occupy a special place in our programme. Photography of this kind is hardly presented in Europe.

Where we are: The centre and the outskirts

For the first time this year, we have introduced a festival theme—the centre and the outskirts. The projects selected for the festival address this theme in different ways. For example, the Australian photography, which is the “centre” in Australia, is very remote for us. The project Stand BY, by the international collective Sputnik Photos, shows a neighbouring country’s view of Belarus. This is an important example for our photographers, who often wonder can they win international competitions with photographs of Belarus? Of course you can.

In addition, the presentation of the LED collective will be very important for us. For three years, these Belarusian photographers have been developing the theme of control in their big joint project.

Key moment: neighbours

The Month of Photography doesn’t “go silent” once it is over. We work hard all year long developing new programmes, constantly communicating with photographers, curators and partners. We seek collaborations and exhibition exchanges with other photography festivals in the region—in Riga, Tbilisi, Odessa, etc. An example of such a collaboration is the planned exhibition of work by Australian photographers, previously held in Russia at the PhotoVisa international photography festival. For six months, we discussed how to bring it here. I have to say the task was not difficult given the geographical proximity of Moscow and the absence of borders. But still…

Founders of the festival

I do most of the festival programme development. I meet with partners and colleagues many times, negotiating exhibitions available for the Month of Photography. All plans are discussed within our team of 10 people. In general, we communicate in private online groups. It is much easier this way given that our team spends most of the year in different countries.

When we already have something specific on our hands, we start bouncing ideas as to which partners and sponsors we still have to attract for any given exhibition, and how to improve the project and make it more interesting.

For the entire month before the opening of the festival we conduct planned information “bombardment” in all directions—publications in the press and on the radio, social networks and the Internet, urban space and television… Every year we involve between 10 and 20 volunteers who help us to organize everything. We could not manage everything by ourselves.

The Month of Photography Library

This year we will not be printing our annual catalogue—it is very time-consuming and costly. But we are unveiling “The Month of Photography Library” and under its auspices we will be publishing the works of masters of Belarusian photography who were unable to publish any books in their lifetime. Thus, we want to create a list of sorts for important names that are running the risk of being forgotten or lost. The first in this series of books will be dedicated to the works of Valery Lobko, the father of the “New Wave of Belarusian Photography”. We also want to support young contemporary photographers and publish their books throughout the year in small print runs.

Photography right under our feet and on trees

Our team has a principle we stick to every year: gradually move beyond the framework of a traditional exhibition with printed photographs hanging on walls and explore new possible formats of exhibiting. That is why we invite for participation projects that exist on the intersection of the arts. As a result, photography ceases to play the main role but becomes a medium through which a photographer “speaks”. For example, the Saint Petersburg-based FotoDepartment centre put on fantastic exhibitions where photographs were right under the feet of viewers: part of it was on the wall and the other on the floor. Such approaches expand the views of photography even for those who are part of the professional community.

This year, the French photographer Clément Briend will be visiting us. He works with light installations around the world, projecting images on buildings, tree crowns, the sea… His works are a proof that photography is not always self-sufficient. Clément will hold a workshop for 15 Belarusian artists and photographers. They will create projections in unison, which will be on view on building façades during the Month of Photography.

Partners begin and win

We are pleased to announce that this year, for the first time ever, we received applications from partners with exhibition proposals. In the past it was we who would approach them. This goes to show that new processes are at play within the photography community! Or that they have been set in motion, to say the least! The usual talk about not having any galleries, photography museums, lectures, or anything else for that matter, no longer has reason for being. Belarus now has an event that brings together all these initiatives—the Month of Photography.


Month of Photography in Minsk: 6-9 September 2016

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