Hit the Road: Photographers Travel

Photography and travel have been linked since the invention of the camera. As early as “Excursions Daguerriennes” (1842) photographers have travelled to exotic and distant locations to bring back images that establish the reality of places for armchair adventurers. Today, beautiful photographs of faraway places are standard fare in thousands of postcards, calendars, popular magazines and social media platforms, creating, for all of us, a mental visual archive of places we have never been, and a stereotyped image of every location for the vicarious traveler to dream of and the camera-laden tourist to emulate.

Exhibitions presented at Fotofestiwal Lodz in 2016 address the theme of travel, but they are less concerned with the glossy fantasies of popular culture than they are with the photographer’s experience in new places, the viewer’s response to it and the complex communication between them. What happens when photographers leave their familiar territory for new cultures, places and people? How do they wrap their heads around the foreign and attain some understanding of it and how do they then use photography to communicate that understanding to people whose exposure to pictures of a place is their only knowledge of it? This broadest possible survey of “travel photographs” goes beyond the beautiful cliché and the picture postcard stereotype and expands the genre to include conceptual art, photojournalism and documentary.

Fotofestiwal presents monographical exhibitions and group shows that address our theme. The artists represent eleven countries and three continents and the places they photographed cover the planet. Our principal contemporary survey is “Road Trips”, eight artist’s installations that consider travel in both history and recent practice and combine a variety of techniques and technologies to express the experience of seeing a new place for the first time. “Flâneur: New Urban Narratives” displays the results of three non-Polish photographs commissioned to explore Lodz and present their findings in an innovative outdoor installation. Current events force us to acknowledge that not all travel is pleasant, safe or by choice. “Displaced” features work by five artists and an activist organization that responds to the world refugee crisis with a rich photographic vocabulary that goes well beyond the images in the daily news.

In two historical offerings, Hit the Road includes “CHIM: David Seymour Citizen of the World” which features the work of the Polish-born photojournalist and founder of Magnum Photos, while “Robert Rauschenberg Travels” focuses on the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, known as ROCI, the great American artist’s ambitious international program of exhibition, art-making and friendship, with an emphasis on his 1989 work in the USSR and the goal of world peace.

In the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg, Fotofestiwal explores the ideas of photography and travel in the belief that international and intercultural understanding is both possible and necessary, and that the immediacy and encyclopedic nature of the photograph is a valuable tool towards that end. The annual international gathering in Lodz is an opportunity for learning, acquaintance and dialogue.