The Hub for Contemporary Photography in Croatia

Having become the neuralgic centre for photography in the region, next year Organ Vida International Photography Festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary and dedicate the entire edition to women in photography.

© Samir Ceric Kovacevic. Dana Lixenberg Imperial Courts Video installation at the Museum of Contemporay Art Zagreb

In its nine editions Organ Vida International Photography Festival has shown the work of internationally recognised photographers and played a decisive role in spreading contemporary photography in Croatia. We talked about it and discussed its future goals with Marina Paulenka, the festival's Artistic Director who will handpick the PHM 2017 Women Photographers Grant submission that will be granted a solo show during the festival in 2018.

Ciao Marina! In 2018, Organ Vida will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Can you tell me how everything started? How the idea of the festival came about and what were/are its goals?

Hi Giuseppe! Yes, almost ten years have passed since a few of my colleagues and myself founded this Festival. At that time in Croatia, and across the rest of the Southeast Europe, there were no events related to contemporary photography and no platforms that could can inspire, engage, or direct you.

After having organised small exhibitions of emerging Croatian photographers with artist talks and workshops, we received really good feedback from the audience. Three years on, local Organ Vida turned into an international festival because we wanted to get an influx of overseas scenes and create a strong platform that would connect this part of Europe with the world. We were pioneers, so it was difficult, but thanks to our excellent team we have achieved a remarkable thing. After nine years working on the festival in impossible conditions, we are very proud of where we are today and looking forward to celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2018 which will be dedicated to women.

Today Organ Vida is the leading organisation of contemporary photography in Croatia and the region. Over time, in addition to the festival, we started working on a permanent full-year program which includes discursive initiatives, book presentations, publishing, magazines, smaller exhibitions, and awards. The Festival is a living organism that is constantly changing and so one constantly finds new ways of articulation and manifestation.

The festival is set in Zagreb, Croatia. What does the festival give to the locals and what has the festival taken from it?

The festival is an important boost for the local cultural scene. We are very much connected to different local institutions from museums to schools. Photographers, curators, and theoreticians that we invite all offer unique opportunities for our audience to experience contemporary photography. We produce a very dynamic program that enables locals to uncover different approaches to photography whether it is participatory like workshops and conferences or educational like lecture series' and exhibition tours. I have to say we have a great response from the audience/visitors and their number is increasing as well as our online and international community. We’ve started small, as an NGO and we still keep that model of functioning which gives us enough freedom to pose important questions and open relevant discussions in contemporary photography. The festival is still a very friendly and intimate place where the audience can get in touch with all the guests, engage in discussions and directly participate. It is a place that creates new opportunities for professionals from all over the globe.

© Borko Vukosav. New Citizens exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Arts Zagreb

The 2018 edition will be focused on women photographers. Can you tell us more about it and why you selected that theme?

We’ve been promoting different topics around women in photography throughout the past few editions but we’ve realised that we need to create a framework where female photographers from different generations and different backgrounds can join together and exhibit and discuss collaboratively. Under the festival format we can, in a clear way, open a public dialogue, invite artists to jointly address their vision of gender relations and how they are affected and addressed in photography.

On a local level we believe that it is very important to engage female photographers, offer them financial and/or advisory support for the production and promotion of their new works, especially in the international context. Lea Vene and I are working on the festival program and the idea is to gather a lot of international women's organisations, not only within photography but also centres for women's studies and a number of organisations that fight for women's rights to speak out and act.

Since all of the members of the Organ Vida board are women, this is also going to be our celebration.

You will select a work among the PHM 2017 Women Photographers Grant applications to be granted a solo show at the 2018 edition of Organ Vida. What will you be looking for in the applications? With which criteria/drivers will you will select it?

While choosing a program for Organ Vida festival, we are always driven with instinct and a feeling that we have for photography, which could be described as searching for strong artworks that are a result of deeper research: those that can stand alone with a powerful story and visual language. One that is using a variety of different strategies and forms to tell the story, one which is honest and relevant and which could move our minds to think differently and direct us to new ways of creating different concepts and understanding of already known stories.

The project should definitely be relevant and it should be a trigger for future positive changes. The representation of the project should also be connected with the idea that it is about discussion.

It would be important to see projects that challenge and critically examine the dominant patriarchal models of representation, redefine the female gaze today and discover the potential of female perspective.

© Samir Ceric Kovacevic. Pieter Hugo in Conversation with Sean O'Hagan 

Many colleagues agree that women are underrepresented in the current photography industry. I personally agree and this is why we considered it important to organise a grant dedicated to women photographers only. Do you agree? Why do you think having a conversation on this topic is still necessary today? What can we do to reach equal working conditions for women and men?

I personally agree with you. If we look at the ratio of female photographers in various agencies or associations, on guest appearances at festivals, juries, nominating committees, etc., it is easy to notice that their number is considerably lower than men. Not only in photography, but in all other fields, especially in higher positions. It is important to talk about what women go through in their careers and what challenges they face in this journey.

Today we are witnessing the socio-political situation in which the rights that have already been won must be re-examined, and the question of gender identity is more pressing than ever. Photography may, if it finds its audience, be a powerful tool for engagement of marginalised and discriminated individuals in the process of developing critical awareness.

Photographic projects are a good opportunity to evoke some of the problems of gender inequality and can mobilise an individual / viewer, and festivals and organisations like us are there to provide these projects with visibility and to deliver them to wider audience.

© Borko Vukosav. Anouk Kruithof Ego Eco Crescendo Installation at French Pavilion, Zagreb

After 10 years, what do you think has been the biggest achievement for the festival and what are you will to achieve in the next 10 years?

I think the festival managed to contribute to local knowledge and awareness around different topics and trends in contemporary photography. We contribute to the shaping of the local photography community, involving it continuously in our programs. We’ve also managed to bring certain big photography names, for the first time and present their solo shows (Pieter Hugo, Dana Lixenberg, Anouk Kruithof, Katrin Koenning, Roger Ballen, Phillip Toledano).

In the future we plan to reconsider our festival format, rethink our roles and work towards our mission even beyond the festival. This specifically means setting up an institutional framework, still missing in Croatia, that will enable year long dedication to contemporary photography (archiving, exhibiting, publishing, advocacy, distribution etc). An institutional platform is a base for more long term planning that includes the adequate space and staff that will run our programs locally and internationally. Also, this kind of institution would form an important new professional stance in the local cultural scene.

What we are especially proud of is the first Award for contemporary Croatian photography “Marina Viculin” - which is a monetary prize and mentorship program for projects in progress which will be exhibited in later editions of the festival.

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Marina Paulenka is the Founder and Artistic Director of Organ Vida International Photography Festival. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Giuseppe Oliverio is the Founder and Director of PHmuseum. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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