Month of Photography 2000
Rating: 10 out of 10
When: Through November
They could easily be missed, scattered as they are in numerous nooks of Bratislava's city centre. But it would be a shame for anyone living in the capital not to catch at least one or two of the 38 excellent photography exhibitions from home and abroad currently here on display. The programme of events leaves hardly anything to be desired when it comes to quality, creativity and diversity.
The exhibitions come as part of Slovakia's 10th annual month of photography, organised by the Slovak photographic society, and are housed in a mixed bag of small galleries, drinking establishments, museums and cultural centres. Many are free, and most are located conveniently in and around the Old Town.
This year's festival drew work from countries such as Argentina, Africa, France and England, but for those interested in local history, a good place to start is Galéria Artotéka, which is showcasing an exhibit of Bratislava at the turn of the century. Particularly interesting among the 50 or so black and whites are shots of the castle - the area below the castle had not yet been destroyed to make way for today's motorway, and the castle itself, conversely, had not yet been renovated. It lay barren and without its modern towers until the 1970s. Photos of the citizens reveal the simple, genteel culture of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.
As an alternative to the aesthetics of a bygone era, Výstavná sieň slovenského plynárenského priemyslu presents pictures of an eternal beauty - that of the nude female body. Slovak photographer Ján Krížik uses simple poses and grey backgrounds to photograph his brunette, curvaceous models. The mood is tasteful, yet not without eroticism.
A few blocks away, an exhibition at Galéria X stirs up emotions of a different variety. Argentinian Paula Luttringer reports on the cold horror of meat production from inside the slaughterhouse. Luttinger shies away, for the most part, from the actual moment of death, focusing instead on the images the animals themselves might see - dark corridors, blood stained aprons and iron hooks. Meat-lovers beware - you may walk out vegetarians.
The three exhibitions thus far mentioned are exclusively in black and white, the medium of choice for most artists at this year's festival. A dazzling exception is a collection from Marián Gavenda, personal photographer of Pope John Paul II. The expected photos of him performing in world-famous sites of worship are inspiring, but pictures of him interacting humbly with peoples from across the world - emerging from a Native American tepee, dressed in traditional African garb, cradling a Koala bear - seem to say the most about the catholic church's most accessible and travelled leader ever. ( Of course, shots of the 'pope-mobile' are always good too.)
The 40 crown ticket to the pontiff exhibition, which is located on the second floor of Dom Kultúry SNP square, is also worth a visit to catch four neighbouring collections. Of these, the best is 'Look At Me', an overview of English fashion from the colourful, breakout 60's, through the punk 70's and anxious 80's to the tentative and schizophrenic 90s.
One floor below, in České centrum, Czech Róbert Silverio, an enemy of 'over-intellectualised art', offers a very different approach to photography. Imbued with irony, his work uses ordinary objects arranged in playful still lifes to poke fun at artistic pretension. His wittiest photograph is an expanse of egg shells, onion skins, and watermelon rinds - all the markings of a satiated vegetarian - with the title 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Vegetarian'. There are other laughs as well.
At the writing of this article two of the festival's most anticipated exhibitions had not yet opened: work of the late world-renowned German sociological photographer August Sander and Slovak documentarist Martin Martinček. However, both are now on display at Slovenská národná galéria (Slovak National Gallery).
A pamphlet with basic information on all of the festival's exhibitions is available at most of Bratislava's galleries and some bookstores. Exhibitions run until the end of November and include information about the photographers in English. Not until next November will Bratislava see this much high quality art.
13. Nov 2000 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds