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(Fragment) Benita Marcussen. Men & Dolls

Bringing Photography Up to Eye Level 0

From June 4 to 14, Scandinavia's largest photo festival celebrates photography

Copenhagen Photo Festival
Copenhagen, Denmark
June 4 – 14, 2015

While on the other side of the pond the American visual artist and “photographer” (yes, this word is usually used in quotation marks before his name) Richard Prince stirs the pot with his prints of others' Instagram photos (which are now selling at New York's Frieze Art Fair for $100,000), the organizers of the Copenhagen Photo Festival are pointing out what differentiates a good photographer from a successful Instagrammer, but they are not banning either one from the festival. Also welcome are users of analog technologies, as well as anyone who has something to present that deals with photography – such as photo books, films about photographers, or a photo workshop. contacted Julie Navne Klitbo, the founding director of the Copenhagen Photo Festival, to find out more about the upcoming event. We also queried her on her views of what makes a good photo festival, what sort of a message do they send, and what is currently going on in the Danish photography scene.

How would you describe the intrinsic identity of the Copenhagen Photo Festival?

If you're referring to the fundamental core values of the festival, we are here to celebrate photography on all levels. Through discussion forums, in museums and galleries, by way of the independent scene, and within the fields of both documentary- and art-photography.

The festival is different from others as it is more grounded and invites photographers from all levels to participate. We set a line and a direction, but we do not judge what can pass as art and what cannot.

We create platforms where photography can be experienced from different perspectives and on different levels. We bring photography out to eye level in the cityscape, in the subways, in café’s, restaurants and shops… 

To also interact with viewers who might not feel comfortable in art galleries or museums. We try to inspire; we arrange workshops, competitions, and educational materials to encourage those interested in learning more.

Jacob Aue Sobol

Nowadays, with the availability of new technologies, the process of photography has become simple and accessible. In your opinion, does this kind of festival raise photography to another level – i.e., puts it on a pedestal so that it is automatically perceived as art?

I don’t think that either technology or festivals as such raise photography to another level – the photographers do that themselves.

But I can cay that festivals offer an opportunity for upcoming and amateur photographers to showcase their work, and to participate in competitions through which they might be ‘discovered’.

Social media and apps have given everyone the tools to ‘act’ as photographers, and many, many do. It’s an amazing form of communication that can be done across borders since it has a universal language.

One picture says more than a thousand words! But just because you have an amazing Instagram profile, and you can capture moments and add a filter and enthuse thousands of followers, doesn’t make you a professional commercial-, art- or press-photographer – it makes you a very successful Instagrammer.

Nevertheless, the festival invites all of these successful Instagrammers to share their tips and tricks to other enthusiasts; we also invite analogue photographers to do the same. It is important that we create forums in which to discuss photography and our perception of it, as the younger generations are already communicating through images more than words. This makes it crucial that we understand how to analyze and perceive the messages that are being sent – even the hidden ones.

Markus Henttonen

In the press release it stated that the Copenhagen Photo Festival’s main aim is to create an international platform for contemporary photography in Denmark. Does this mean that Denmark’s own photography scene has already achieved enough recognition, and that the audience is ready for new things?

An international platform covers both visitors and exhibitors, so we aren’t in any way excluding Danish photography. The majority of photographers exhibited are Scandinavian, so it’s just as relevant for us to invite international guests and, of course, international photographers.

The festival's purpose is not only to celebrate Danish photography, since local photography is, of course, always more accessible in the Danish media as well as locally, on site. In this sense, the festival is just a great opportunity to show more of what is happening on the international scene – for comparative and inspirational purposes.

On the festival's webpage, it states that established exhibition spaces and independent artists do not need to apply in order to get their exhibition or event included in the Copenhagen Photo Festival’s program. How then does the procedure of selection happen, and what is the reasoning behind this democratic format?

The Copenhagen Photo Festival is a platform in which we invite independent photographers, collaborators, galleries, museums, etc. to celebrate photography with us over a period of ten days. The festival arranges a catalog, the program, PR, shuttle buses, competitions, exciting collaborations, workshops etc., but the rest is up to the exhibitor him/herself. Every year there is a larger area/spaces that we call ‘Photo City’, which is where we place our ‘center‘.

Aside from Photo City, the festival committee does not want to judge or select what gets into the program; we do not want to dictate what is or isn't considered art. We only have one requirement: it must be photographic in nature – it must have relevance to photography, whether it is a movie about a photographer, an exhibition, a book-signing for a photo book, a photo book exhibition, a workshop about photography, and so on.

We want to create a platform in which upcoming artists can be exhibited side-by-side with established artists, and then we let the viewers decide for themselves what it is that they like – so they get inspired and see a little bit of everything.

Today, photography is everywhere and we communicate through images all the time. We feel it is important to stop and consider, and look at these images that we’re exposed to all the time. As a result, a wide range of diversity and examples and different styles are essential.

Tonje Bøe Birkeland

Please tell us more about the concept behind The Censored Exhibition.

The Censored Exhibition is one of the few exhibitions that we curate ourselves. We invite photographers from all over the world to send us their work, and then the founders – Rasmus Ranum and I, Julie Navne Klitbo – will select up to 90 works for the group exhibition.

Every year we see from the sent-in work that there is a clear direction in genres/themes/motifs. So we try to put together a selection of what, of course, we are drawn to, but also the best of what we have received that gives a clear direction and a collective representation of where photography “is” right now. So there is no predetermined theme, but one appears as we go along.

This year we went through more than 3000 works from 32 different countries, and it was great fun!

The Censored Exhibition is often one of my favorites as it showcases art and photographers on all levels, and from so many different countries and backgrounds.

What are the themes that have been touched upon in the festival’s exhibitions?

We have tried not to lock ourselves onto themes for the festival in general – again, to keep it diverse. But we have, for certain projects or competitions, had themes within the best photo contest, for example – music, everyday life, etc. There have been competitions in which the festival has selected a shortlist, and then a selected jury chooses the winner(s).

Last year we had a nationwide exhibition called “Picture the Music”; it was a selection of participants' music photos, as selected by two exhibiting photographers: Soeren Solkaer and Joakim Ladefoged, both of whom are professional and very experienced music photographers. The project “Picture the Music” has been continues for this year as well.

The Copenhagen Photo Festival was founded in 2010. Are there photographers who were discovered at CPF, going on to become “stars”?

We’ve been exhibiting between 130-170 photographers every year, and unfortunately, we can’t keep track of everyone’s careers.

Some are already well established when they exhibit at the Copenhagen Photo Festival, and it is just another addition to their long list of achievements; others haven’t even graduated from school yet – if they're even considering on going; for some it’s a fun project, for others it’s a career move.

I do know, though, that certain exhibitions or pieces have traveled onwards to other countries, and that some photographers have been able to use their success at the festival in opening other doors.

Right now Danish photography is receiving substantial recognition worldwide. Could you mention the latest and most significant events that confirm this?

The Danish press photographer Mads Nissen was awarded the prestigious 2015 World Press Photo of the Year, in February.

And just in general, Danish press photographers are doing really well. Danish photographers within the commercial industry are often chosen to shoot worldwide campaigns for internationally renown brands and companies. And art photographers are recognized and exhibited internationally in both museums and galleries.

The distinct style of Danish and Scandinavian photography is even referred to as being on the same level as the classic Danish painters, Scandi food, Danish furniture design, and Scandinavian fashion. I guess our light, our nature, our dark winters and bright summers, etc., all inspire certain moods and compositions that are very distinct for our region.

When I showcase Danish art or commercial photography, I often get positive feed back about it – in the sense of it being sooo “Scandinavian”.