CITY OF IMAGES
EXHIBITION REVIEW: Festival La Gacilly-Baden Photo Festival
Photography and text by Karin Svadlenak-Gomez
For the third year in a row, the small town of Baden near Vienna has become an outdoor photography gallery. Billed as the largest European photography festival, the exhibitions are spread all across downtown Baden´s streets and parks. In times of the Covid-19 pandemic, there could not be a more ideal setting for a "museum visit" than to stroll around in the open air, enjoying the outstanding photography and the greenery, stopping in between for coffee and cake in one of Baden´s many coffee houses. I visited on a warm September afternoon, when people were still lounging about on picnic blankets and in outdoor cafes. The exhibition runs until 26 October 2020.
Baden is a small town just 26 km south of Vienna with a long history as a spa town because of natural thermal springs in the area. Architecturally the old part of town is also very pretty, featuring villas and buildings built largely during the Biedermeier period, after a fire in 1812 destroyed much of the old city. Because of the hot springs and the woods surrounding it, it has always been a popular destination for recreation seekers coming from Vienna, including the imperial family. In the 19th century, a railway connection was built to Vienna, making it easily accessible for thousands of Viennese, and this connection is still running today: The tram-like Badner-Bahn makes it from the Vienna Opera to downtown Baden in about an hour.
But apart from the pleasant hiking, walking, and bathing opportunities, once a year in the summer, the city itself becomes a work of art: the photo festival LaGacilly-Baden turns Baden's already quite pretty streets, squares and parks into a veritable feast for the eyes.
FRANCK SEGUIN, France: THE MAN WHO WALKED UNDERWATER. Franck Seguin, chief photography editor for l’Equipe Magazine, and Guillaume Néry, one of the world’s best known free-divers, teamed up in a photographic project that aspires to educate the public about the fragility of the oceans.
“Here in the crystal-clear waters of the abyss, my body leads me to the boundaries of a world beyond a world. I find myself gliding around a little island blossoming with leaves and branches, at the very bottom of the Angelita cenote, in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico." - Guillaume Néry
The Baden photo festival is now in its third year, originated by Lois Lammerhuber, one of the most important contemporary photographers in Austria, as a twin exhibition to the one held at La Gacilly in Bretagne, France every year. In La Gacilly, this photo festival has been celebrated since 2004. The photos shown in Baden are those shown in La Gacilly the previous year.
This year's motto in Baden is "Never Give Up" - could there have been a better title for an exhibition in this pandemic year 2020? The motto includes two narrative circles: “Renaissance” and “All eyes East”. Renaissance or rebirth stands for the commitment and awareness of the exhibiting photographers to dedicate their work to our planet, but also for hope: the hope for change, for a better world. The view towards the East (East from Europe, that is, and also the political "East"), refers to the remarkable creative turnout of contemporary photography in Russia and former Soviet Union states. The displays of the exhibition provide insights into the diverse and historically rich east of Europe.
With a plea for peace, tolerance and togetherness, the two festival narratives are visualised by 31 photographers, a photography collective of the Lower Austrian State photography guild and 13 schools. There are 2000 photographs on display, and I can show only a small fraction here.
The French festival originator Jacques Rocher is the son of Yves Rocher, who managed to create a global cosmetic brand with organic products with his company based near the village of La Gacilly. Back in 2004 Jacques Rocher realised his idea of a photo festival in La Gacilly, dedicated to the subject of people and the environment.
"Major environmental and social challenges lie at the heart of the La Gacilly Photo Festival and have shaped its programme for 17 years now, raising awareness and enlightening the world through the photographer’s lens." - Jacques Rocher
The exhibited photo series have a strong humanistic orientation, showing humans in their home environment, but also showing the impact humans have on earth, often in quite disturbing ways. The images are a socially relevant merging of artistic photography and photojournalism.
GUILLAUME HERBAUT, France: IN THE EAST, THE FORESTS STAND DEFIANT. Guillaume Herbaut, an eminent photo-journalist regularly featured in the French press visited some sublime and tragic parts of Eastern Europe. The French photographer started out at one of his preferred locations: the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, where trees and vegetation survived on land scorched by the greatest disaster of the 20th century. He then crossed Romania, before journeying to the Gemenc Forest in Hungary. His road trip takes us to regions destroyed by overexploitation of natural resources. A glimmer of hope is provided by images of people fighting to restore life by replanting trees on their original sites.
ELENA CHERNYSHOVA, Russia: LIFE IN THE FROZEN EXTREMES. The Norilsk Mosque, the most northern mosque of the globe. In Norilsk, Russia, temperatures plummet to -40°C in December and there are 130 days of snowstorms per year. Elena Chernyshova has travelled the coldest regions of Russia to document the life of the men and women who have learned to live in such hostile conditions. Her images show a stark and very different reality from that experienced by us in "the West".
Apart from the high quality artwork and the topical interest, the photo festival is so delightful because of the way the art is integrated into and interacts with constructed and natural elements of the city. A tree shadow falling on a building-sized photograph, filtered sunlight illuminating exhibition paths, and coffee shops and picnic spots throughout the city, from which the viewer can admire the photography and take in the special ambience at leisure. To see all of the exhibitions takes several hours, and so it is a good idea to take it in small doses and return, a second, perhaps a third time, to absorb it all. The festival extends over a length of 7 kilometres, divided into a “garden route” and a “town route”, so you had better put your walking shoes on.
Left: Exhibition view of THE ARCTIC: A NEW FRONTIER, A JOINT POLAR EXPEDITION by YURI KOZYREV & KADIR VAN LOHUIZEN, Russia & the Netherlands. Right: Exhibition view of THE LAST BLACK FACES OF POLAND by KASIA STREK, Poland.
KASIA STREK, Poland: THE LAST BLACK FACES OF POLAND. Photo journalist Kasia Strek has turned her lens on the last remaining coal reserves in the areas of Radlin, Budryk and Bytom in Poland, where the walls of people’s homes are blackened by coal dust.
Embedded into the lovely rose garden, right next to the Orangerie at Doblhoff park, are amazing large reproduction of colour photographs taken in tsarist Russia. The rose garden itself is also worth a visit during the flowering season, with some 900 species of roses blooming at different times!
SERGEY PROKUDIN-GORSKY, Russia. These colourful photographs of people in Tsarist Russia, an exhibition titled "The Colours of the Empire", were taken between 1905 and 1915! All photos have been carefully restored, but are presented in their original state.
VALERIO VINCENZO, Italy: BORDERLINE, FRONTIERS OF PEACE. The story of how borders change over time is like a play that unfolds in several acts, and is performed again and again. For the last ten years or so, Italian photographer Valerio Vincenzo has travelled European borders, the 20,000 kilometres of frontiers that have faded away under the effects of freedom of movement in the European Union. Vincenzo plays with horizons and vanishing lines to depict these barricades that no longer exist, pointing to what the eye can no longer see. Borderline is an ode to the peace and freedom enjoyed in Europe at a time when nations are beginning to shut themselves away.
AXELLE DE RUSSÉ, France: TOGO: THE FOREST GARDENERS. The photojournalist Axelle de Russé ventured into the Kpalimé region to investigate the day-to-day existence of farmers who refuse to watch their land die out. LEFT: A fertiliser tree. A replanting program supported by APAF and the Yves Rocher Foundation. RIGHT: Ami and her three daughters (Marie, Esse, Adjo) are planting fertiliser trees in a cornfield where banana and cacao trees also grow.
Apart from the work of well established photographers, the festival also makes room for contributions of some emerging talents in partnership with Fisheye Magazine. This initiative is showcasing new photographic output on the theme of New Frontiers. There are also works of local amateurs from Lower Austrian schools and from the guild of photographers on view.
One of the home-grown contributions to the festival is the exhibition DU BIST KUNST. Using the hashtag #dubistkunst (you are art), an Austrian art TV programme (kulturMontag) teamed up with renowned Austrian art museums and called on photographers to join with their creations. A set of quirky reinterpretations of classic master pieces is exhibited in Doblhoffpark. Think Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and co.
TOP and LEFT: Exhibition view of #DUBISTKUNST; RIGHT: EMILE ECKLY-WETZ recreated Egon Schiele´s self-portrait with lowered head.
The photo festival La Gacilly-Baden is on view until 26 October 2020. It is open air and free of charge to visit. For anyone in or around Vienna, or near the original location in France, I highly recommend a visit. You will be astonished, impressed, saddened, delighted, and amused.
All photographs © Karin Svadlenak-Gomez
The descriptions in captions under my pictures of the exhibition and the quotes are excerpted from the exhibition catalogue. A print version of the exhibition catalogue is available at the Festival Centre shop.
As a special service in the Covid 19 year 2020 the Festival offers the festival catalogue and the festival map as well as the festival book as free download.
COVER IMAGE: View of photos by FRANCK SEGUIN, France: THE MAN WHO WALKED UNDERWATER
FINAL IMAGE: View of photos by ELENA CHERNYSHOVA, Russia: LIFE IN THE FROZEN EXTREMES
The author is a curator and editor of the Pictorial Mag. Do you have a pictorial story to tell? Submit your idea and photos via our upload page!