‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ – you may say that this is a time-worn adage, but a visit to the exhibitions of Fotofabrika will let you remember it and will convince you that photos are really worth a thousand words. They tell stories, stir emotions, make us think of people’s tragedies, they are evidence of the transitional processes taking place all over the world.
Fotofabrika Festival is an international photography festival held in Sofia, Bulgaria, each fall. Last year in its first edition Fotofabrika showed the protesting man. Accent in this second edition are refugees and socially excluded people. Photographs from around the world direct public attention to the people we do not notice in our everyday life or do not see them – the marginal people.
“Those, who are different.We look at them with superiority, contempt, disdain. We even prefer not to see them. Because they strike us with shame, pity or guilt. Among them there are unemployed, or homeless people, people with diplomas and titles, abandoned loners, people without education, without health, without relatives, people without protection. We leave them in the gray area of no-man’s land, in the backyard of Europe, America, Asia and Africa. We treat them as if they are invisible — conveniently inconspicuous in the smug reel of our commercial times. They aren’t outlaws — the law is out of them.“
The organizers of the festival have tried not just to identify who are the marginal people in our society, but also how the society reacts to them. “We want to say that the exclusion of people we usually do not notice, because they cause us anxiety, is inhumane. We want to say that the marginal man is not just the man who delves into the street trash. ” said Emi Baruh, director of the festival “Fotofabrika” at the opening on September the 9th.
The 50-day-long event includes six photo exhibitions, which will remain in Sofia until the end of October, three photography workshops and a movie forum. The Forum KinoFabrika (Film Factory) titled ‘Useless stories from yesterday’ includes screenings of polemic documentaries made before and after 1989, accompanied by discussions with creators. They will try to answer questions like “Who we are “, “Why is happening to us what happens to us” and “How to live with our own injuries”. Communicating with the documentary films included in the forum Kinofabrika is expected to help us look with new eyes at our lives, to understand what has been kept in silence and to find our way in this sometimes deliberately tangled maze of recent history. At least for some of those who are looking to do so.
The first exhibition , Various Selves by French photographer Pierre Gonnord, presented in the National Art Gallery includes portraits of wanderers, workers, homeless people, immigrants and loners, people from Roma families in Seville, characters from the Venetian Lagoon, residents of the industrial coast of Mestre, and the old ghetto of Cannaregio. The impressive large-scale prints with dramatically lit faces on dark backgrounds recall portraits by Rembrandt, Velázquez or El Greco.
Pierre Gonnord, who has turned the Marginal Man project into a way of life, is recognized as one of the most important social portraitists in Europe. He captures the marginalized and invisible members of society in elegant portraits and explaines that he is interested in individuals belonging to certain groups of people for social reasons, but also with a more universal view, “who were far from the material prosperity and the noise of our uniform urban society. I chose people who shine with a different light and have exceptional energy.”
The Strange Other – the second exhibition from the festival is a sequel of the Marginal Man subject. It is about war confronting people and people hitting the roads of war, about the victims of war that Bulgaria has begun receiving. It is aimed to be an invitation for reflection and a contact with ordinary people who found themselves in unusual situations and also an indirect dialogue between refugees and Bulgarians who had to confront each other, against their own will.
The exhibition shows photographs and video installations of refugees coming from war-torn countries and of villagers from Rozovo, Telish and Kalishte, where refugees have settled. The desire of the team is to let us see not the political, but the purely humane side of the issue – do we have the senses for such people, and if we don’t – have we lost a part of our humanity?
It is important to mention the only more positive exhibition which shows that in this gloomy modern world there are inspiring people – ENDAGERED SPIECES, who alone and quietly go beyond limits that seem impossible to the rest of us. The solo exhibition by Maria Milkova, Grand Prix Winner of last year’s documentary photography contest The Street: States And Conditions poses questions: Can a human be an artist when blind? Can one film without hands? Can one teach in a desolate school, yet create future. The answer is YES.
Seven heart-rending stories locked in 25 frames tell the stories of inspiring people like the country physics teacher who in a desolate school managed to prepare 7 of the 11 international gold medalists of Bulgaria or about the photographer who makes photos without hands. They are endangered species of the human being kind.
Transition first starts from within. In our increasingly visual society photography continues to have enormous power to do infinitely more than document and in an international language understood by everyone. Fotofabrika Festival uses this power and talks to us about what is happening in the world today and how it affects us. And probably will influence the way we accept all these changes, as well as the way we react – hopefully for a better future for all of us.