Connecting through photography
With Iceland in the spotlight, the Warsaw Art Photography Festival 2015 brings Polish and Icelandic photographers together under the theme of ‘common space’.
“This is the 8th edition of the festival, but it’s the first time that we have a specific theme,” explains Magdalena Durda-Dmitruk, one of the festival curators:
“With this theme we want to create a space for dialogue between artists from the two countries. Iceland is quite far from Poland and has a different way of life, thinking and traditions.”
The festival, supported by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the Polish ‘Promotion of Diversity in Culture and Arts within European Cultural Heritage’ programme, opens today and will run in several Warsaw galleries in May and June.
Icelandic nature plays a leading role in the festival. In addition to exhibitions by Icelandic photographers, several Polish photographers who have visited Iceland will showcase their work. “It’s a dream come true for the Polish photographers to go and experience the silence in the Icelandic landscape”, explains Durda-Dmitruk.
Even though the relation between nature and people is the dominant focus of the festival, the theme is also addressed from several other angles. Polish photographers have for example focused on spiritual space and captured the life of people of many different religions existing in the Eastern part of Poland.
“We also have a young generation of photographers who approach the theme from a different perspective, mostly using portraits,” says Durda-Dmitruk.
Among those young photographers is the Icelander Sigga Ella, who graduated from the School of Photography in Reykjavik in 2014. Her exhibition ‘First and foremost I am’ consists of 21 portraits of individuals with Down’s syndrome.
Using only a simple chair set against a colourful floral backdrop, her portraits capture the diverse personalities of the models, who are of all ages and both genders.
Photo: Sigga Ella
“I wanted to demonstrate that these people are more than the syndrome they have. Every person is unique,” explains Sigga Ella, “no one should be judged for having one extra chromosome.”
Addressing the ethics
The inspiration behind the project came from a radio interview she heard on prenatal diagnosis – a common procedure which tests for specific conditions in embryos during pregnancy, including Down’s syndrome:
“I am fascinated by the ethical questions. Who gets to decide who gets the chance of life and who doesn’t? We need to ask ourselves where technology is taking us. In today’s world, many people decide not to go through with pregnancies if the syndrome is detected. What’s next? Where will we draw the line? It’s important that we increase education about the syndrome and what it actually entails – it is not a disease.”
The project has already garnered widespread attention and has been featured several times in international media. However, this is the first time that the exhibition is shown outside of Iceland. “It falls very well within the festival theme,’ says Sigga Ella, “The topic is common to all of us, no matter where we are in the world. It’s a discussion that is needed everywhere.”
Cooperating across cultures
The festival has been organised in close cooperation with Fisl – The Icelandic Contemporary Photography Association.
Durda-Dmitruk notes that the cooperation has been very interesting:
“We work at different paces and approach things from different angles. It’s been intriguing to see these cultural differences, both in the organisation and through the photography. I, for example, find the Icelandic concept of photography to be more of an inner process – slower but deeply reflective,” says Durda-Dmitruk.
Sigga Ella is looking forward to taking part in the festival and exploring the other works featured. “It will be very interesting to see what the Polish photographers are doing – it’s bound to be inspiring” she says adding that she’s happy to have this opportunity.
“It feels great to have my work recognised and to be selected to join such an excellent group of photographers. I hope my exhibition will get to travel further after this, giving even more people the opportunity to learn about Down’s syndrome.”
Warsaw Festival of Art Photography 2015
Protecting Cultural Heritage
Warsaw Division of Association of Polish Art Photographers
Type of Institution:
Umbrella organization / Network of NGOs
Icelandic photography is almost unknown in Poland and vice versa. The objective is to raise public awareness about Icelandic photography in Poland and Polish photography in Iceland; promote photography as a medium of artistic expression; to show similarities and differences in photo heritage of both countries; to increase public awareness of the diversity of cultures and on the role photography can play in intercultural dialogue. Target groups: all interested in art photography; representatives of different generations; professionals. Role of partners is to collaborate in concept and realisation of photo exhibitions in Warsaw and Reykjavik, to increase exchange of experts and institutional collaboration between both countries. The partnership will result in: 12 exhibitions of Icelandic and Polish photographs in Reykjavik and Warsaw; catalogue; common plans for long-term Polish-Icelandic photo-collaboration.