We asked Fotopub’s creative director Chris de Bode to tell us a little about Fotopub in Novo Mesto, Slovenia: its origins, the Slovenian photo scene, the role of NGOs in photojournalism, and how it all went down last week.
Fotopub started 8 years ago in Novo Mesto as a mainly workshop oriented thing. The additional expos were there to create more of a festival feeling. The godfather was the Novo Mesto-based photographer Borut Peterlin (who had btw an expo at Host not so long ago). He laid out the infrastructure together with the local student organization LokalPatriot (LP). As the program director he worked together with festival director Katarina Zunic from LP. This was the first year that I took over from Peterlin.
LP has a rather tight budget to work with which will hopefully increase over the next years. That’s the reason why I chose the mentors/exhibitors close to home: in order to keep the costs down and to know for sure that with these people around me I’d deliver quality for the people attending the festival.
Fotofestival in Slovenia
Also, this was the first time in the history of Fotopub that the whole program was created around a theme. All exhibitions where selected round the “human footprint” theme. It was one of the selection criteria for picking this particular group of photographers. They combine high level photography with very small egos. I don’t want big egos in the festival. That’s why it is being held in an intimate small lovely town, a place where students can feel safe to work and show their personality. You know that photography is so much about exposing yourself in a picture or the subject you try to make contact with.
Most of the students are Slovene. However this time was the first we had also several other nationalities joining in. One of the Slovene mentors, Uros Abram, is a student at the Famu academy in Prague, the other Uros Zagozen is a professional photographer from Ljubljana who was teaching at Fotopub in previous years.
I believe the selected mentors differ a lot from each other. Not only in personality but also in skills. Apart from these mentors, Kadir van Lohuizen was here giving a lecture on his expo, “Diamond Matters”. Robert Knoth, a former Panos photographer, was the mentor of the masterclass. We showed his body of work on the nuclear devastation in Russia. Also John Novis, commissioning photo editor of Greenpeace International was invited to do a lecture on his job. Michael Regnier came to tell us about (non)-successful stories he deals with as editor for Panos Pictures. We offer a rich program for the students being 2 to 3 lectures for various levels in the morning, prac/tech in the afternoon. Students develop a photostory during the week. They and the general public enjoy evening openings and screenings.
The general public showed up more and more during the week. This is due to a lot of national and regional media attention. We had thus far around 90 different articles in printmedia, radio and television. (I don’t count the internet blog etc.) That’s a lot for a small country like Slovenia. I have to say that the Novo Mesto audience is hard to seduce but I know we will in the future since the potential of this festival is quite big. We didn’t invest a lot so far in promoting us in for example neighbouring country Croatia. Capital Zagreb is only 70 km away. Like LJ. So geographically speaking NM is in a good spot.
Fotopub is the only festival in the region focusing on documentary photography. There is a need for it. We easily got 60 students including 6 in the masterclass. Next October the first photocollege will start in Slovenia so that wil mean our audience will grow. I’m aiming at around 100 students in the future. An “A” star photographer with small ego ) will do the masterclass. And a possible change from this years version will be that mentors and exhibiting photographers will not be the same. That way we can show more work in screenings, lectures and shows.
Also we have Nikon as a general sponsor. They started to believe in this festival after being more low profile in previous editions. We are already in talks for next year, discussing possibilities of enriching our collaboration in the future. We host the “Nikon Thursday Award” where after an evening of showing a selection of submitted slideshows by international and Slovene photographers an International jury selects a winner. Nikon adopted this event.
There are quite a few talented Slovene photographers. Among them Arne Hodalic, NGM photographer, who lectured in this years edition and Borut Peterlin and many others who meet the western european styles and likes. The work which was produced during the workshops was way beyond many of the mentors’ expectations. It was really appreciated by the audience that people like Kadir van Lohuizen and Robert Knoth were present. They both did evening lectures and the public showed up and loved it.
As the festival evolved during the week more people showed up. And by throwing a few bad ass parties we kept the tradition of Fotopub alive. Coming here is a pretty exhausting experience for all of the visitors. Due to the character of the town it’s hard to escape from the events. There is a positive vibe which culminated in the last farewell party.
The Role of NGOs in Photojournalism
We also asked Chris about this year’s Fotopub symposium (“The Tribune”), “The Role of NGOs in Photojournalism”:
The debate was more a round table discussion which included all the mentors and guests plus students and visitors. In brief this was the content of the debate:
The main issue was that NGOs become more and more the providers of information and news. Do we as photographers want to be a part of their marketing tools? Before the debate started John Novis of Greenpeace International had a nice lecture on how GP uses photography in their campaigns. Over the years banners became more important and original campaigns were big hits in the media.
Arne Hodalic added that in Slovenia the NGO is not as developed as in other parts of the world. Slovenia is a rather small country with only 2 million people so not a very interesting market for fundraising and such. Photographers don’t work for fees but are allowed to publish their work freely without the control of the NGO.
Kadir explained his approach. He likes to stay independent but uses the infrastructure the NGO has, like MSF for example, to get to places more easily. We all agreed that the tendency of the growing role of NGOs in independent newsgathering is worrying. The media should invest more money in producing stories themselves. Some of us don’t want to work for NGOs since they believe it conflicts with their independence as a photographer. Aren’t we always embedded? When we are with the rebels, US army, the NGO or anything else. As long as there is balanced newsgathering there is no problem, according to Kadir.
We also touched on the discussion that took place in the Netherlands where a staff photographer of the Minister of Defence participated and won a price in a photojournalistic contest. What do we thing about that? Opinions where divided. The Slovene audience had less problems than others with that.
Steve Forrest and John Novis clashed with their views on the NGO role in the media. Also Robert Knoth mentioned what is already the million dollar industry with extremely high stakes and that saving a child becomes part of saving themselves. We as photographers should not forget that we are being used for their benefits too.
“Fotopub is a damn good therapeutical outlet!”
Pfffffffff it has become a novel. Just want to add that this festival has got a lot of potential in this part of the world. We already have a vast group of addicts. I want to make this a hard-to-avoid niche festival which shows that story telling with photographs is important to talk about, fun to do and brings a group of people together who can create a wonderful vibe in photoland since there are so many projects going on, so many doubts about the right path too chose.
We came to the conclusion that being a photographer is an excellent job for a manic depressed. Im good, I suck, Im good, I suck… Fotopub is a damn good therapeutical outlet!!!
Chris de Bode
Thanks, Chris. Congratulations on building onto this small, serious venue, and good luck with Fotopub 2009! And don’t miss Steve Forrest’s picture diary of Fotopub on the foto8 site.