KAUNAS - For a month and a half this year, the city of Kaunas becomes an international photography destination. The Kaunas Photo Festival, held annually since 2004, brings together photographers from across Lithuania, the Baltic States, and the world. The festival takes place at 16 different galleries, with the main exhibition held at the M. Zilinskas gallery, a part of the M. K. Ciurlionis National Art Museum. This year’s festival theme is broad: “What have you seen and experienced?”
That’s an opportunity for both festival organizers and staff to reflect on experiences of the festival, director Mindaugas Kavaliauskas explains: “The festival consists of different types of experiences: for example, coming to the crowded exhibition opening with mood music and wine, or coming later to the silence of the same exhibition and discovering something special about the photographs…or participating in portfolio reviews and finding out more about your own work.” He adds that the festival program aims to show either new work, or work that wasn’t previously visible in Lithuania.
The main exhibition contains works from international artists, centered around the theme “About Photography.” Though that sounds broad too, Kavaliauskas explains that photographers in the exhibition discuss situations in the “art, creation, sociology, materiality, consumption and business of photography.” There are seven sections of the exhibition, focusing on cameras, the profession, aesthetics and heritage of photography, and other related topics. Over 50 international photographers and curators participated in the show. “You can regard this exhibition as an educational project, but also as a visual adventure,” Kavaliauskas says.
This year features more exhibitions of Lithuanian photographers than previous festivals have – both emerging and established artists. One of those artists is Tadao Cern, an artist Kavaliauskas describes as “a real character.” Cern’s work became an Internet hit overnight when his photo series “Blow Job” got thousands of hits in a short time. The name may be misleading – the series in question is comprised of portraits of people photographed in front of a blowing fan. Cern’s real name is Tadas Cerniauskas and he has previously worked as an architect, not a photographer; the series was an exercise in self-promotion, photographing everyone who entered his studio during Vilnius Design Week. His idea was conceived in a sauna and resulted in a flood of inquiries from media organizations.
This is the first gallery exhibition of the work, shown at the Fluxus Ministerija (Fluxus Ministry) gallery, a space paying homage to Lithuania’s role in the 1970s Fluxus art movement (of which Yoko Ono was a participant) – founder George Maciunas and experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas, are both Lithuanian (and might appreciate Cern’s initiative). “It was something like a story of ‘how to become a photographer and famous overnight,’” Kavaliauskas says.
Other Lithuanian photographers with work on view include Algimantas Aleksandravicius, a well-known photographer presenting a series shot in the early 1990s for the first time. He’s known for portraits and landscapes showing Lithuanian culture, but this series, “Small Town Cafe Stories,” was shot in cafes in Panevezys, showing the ‘decadency’ of those years. The photographer was the owner of a cafe and Lithuania’s first private fitness club at the time, and the series depicts men from the fitness club relaxing with escorts at cafes. “These photographs remind me of cinema, erotic stills from suspense movies,” Kavaliauskas says. Another Lithuanian artist, Erikas Ovcarenko, turns landmarks of Kaunas into miniature planets, playing on a Lithuanian joke that asks, ‘do you have a globe of Lithuania?’ – going further to make a globe just of Kaunas.
This fall the festival is also collaborating with the Photaumnales festival in Beauvais, France, where an exhibition entitled “LT – a tribe, traditions, trends” is a central exhibition, telling the story of Lithuania and Lithuanians over the last 50 years. The Beauvais festival is of a similar size to the Kaunas festival and was also begun in 2004.
Kaunas Photo is presenting the work of a Beauvais photographer, Thierry Girard, in turn. Other important collaborators are Baltic neighbors, though, with festival sponsorship from many Baltic companies, collaboration on exhibitions with the Latvian Museum of Photography in Riga, and Estonian and Latvian photographers participating as well. “I am very glad about this kind of inter-Baltic cooperation,” Mindaugas Kavaliauskas comments. He’s happy to present new Lithuanian work, but also showing photographers of other countries, not focusing exclusively on local artists. “If photography was religion, you’d be able to find its saints everywhere.”
Exhibitions are open until various dates in October, with the main exhibition closing Oct. 14.
Guided tours are offered on Oct. 3 and 10.