Photoszene Festival: The State I Am In
Every other September Cologne is host to two major events that draw photography enthusiasts from all over the world to the cathedral city: the trade show Photokina and the photography festival run by local non-profit association Internationale Photoszene Köln. By no means are these events rivals – on the contrary, they complement each other perfectly. Since its establishment in 1950 Photokina has showcased the entire spectrum of state-of-the-art technical developments in photography; Photoszene Festival, which was launched in 1984 and is one of the oldest festivals of its kind in the world, offers an extensive programme of events across the entire city.
The special feature of the festival is that anyone with a photography exhibition can register to take part. This extends the scope of Photoszene Festival enormously, with shows being staged in the city’s major art venues such as Museum Ludwig, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln (MAKK) and Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, plus international galleries including Galerie Karsten Greve, In Focus Galerie and Delmes & Zander as well as small independent and project venues. Admission is for the most part free.
This year, though, things are a little different. First, Photoszene Festival will open on the weekend before Photokina, extending the core festival period from six to ten days. September being a busy event month overall, the organisers want to relax the schedule a little. It’s a prudent decision, since the number of exhibitions has risen versus 2014 by around 30 per cent to approximately 110 this year.
Second, in addition to its main function as a platform for a wide variety of exhibitions, for the first time Photoszene Festival has brought artists Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber on board to curate a “Festival course”. The subject the curators have selected is as topical as it is relevant: titled The State I Am In, the thematic focus is on interior security, with a total of 18 visual interpretations by international photographers of an increasingly uncertain and unstable world. The subject is reflected in the political terms of the “Bonn Republic” period as well as in current social and economic developments.
Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann broach the anonymous, dehumanised phenomena of high-frequency trading and censorship. Luisa Whitton portrays humanoid robots in Japan. Cologne-based Allan Gretzki shows the belongings left behind by the victims of the Loveparade disaster in Duisburg. Jason Lazarus is another collector – with his project Too Hard To Keep the American photographer archives photographs that people send him because they can no longer bear the sight of seeing and owning them but don’t want to discard them either.
Another special feature of the Festival this year is the papering of several dozens of advertising pillars, known as “art pillars”, across the city. The artist Simon Menner has produced full-length portraits of men in various styles of dress, images that were sourced from the archives of the GDR’s secret police and show agents taking part in a training course on the art of disguise. Menner’s work is a subtle yet highly public reminder of the covert blanket surveillance of an entire population. The agents’ identities are exposed in a manner reminiscent of a pillory.
Already one month before the actual festival, on 19 August the Photoszene team is hosting a reception at the offices of the Michael Horbach Foundation to present the Festival’s programme plus the third edition of the free magazine L. Fritz. The date, by the way, is no coincidence: on 19 August 1839 a revolutionary photographic technique by the name of daguerreotypy was presented to the public in Paris. The date has been considered the birth date of photography ever since.