In a recent conversation with a colleague, whose practice is based outside of photography, we discussed the ongoing question of trying to assess the multiple ways in which photography functions and what photographers can hope to represent of the world. The sentence that stuck in my mind from the discussion was “photography is always on the outside looking in”. It was a general point about the status of photography within art and culture, but this sentiment, for me, defines the central question for photographers and their position as an authoritative force in the world. With photography, the genesis of a work is often spontaneous, instantaneous, and external, and the production managed by a series of complex and mysterious machines. The camera and the photographic image, regardless of the nuance of particular practice or mode, force a feeling of examination, rather than what is widely considered as a more lyrical dialogue within many other artforms. The photographic practitioner is situated firmly in the position of the observer, on the outside and looking in—even when the photographer is embedded or central, the introduction of the camera separates them from the events. This machine-managed but intellectually engaged series of processes is maybe why photography occupies that fertile hinterland between reality and fiction, never really qualifying itself as either and, equally, never really disqualifying itself as either. In the exhibitions as part of Krakow Photomonth, the photographic document becomes questionable and complex constructions can feel authoritative; nothing is true and nothing is false—everything is a possible true fiction of deceptive fact.
Gordon MacDonald is a curator, writer, artist and publisher based in Brighton, England. MacDonald was founding Editor of Photoworks magazine (UK), co-founder and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Brighton Photo Fringe (2003–2014), and is currently founder and Director of GOST Books (London, UK) until 2016. He is also one half of the creative partnership MacDonaldStrand alongside Clare Strand.
The festival title also describes the various complex relationships present in the act of making, producing, and exhibiting works, and my own position in this festival as a curator. For this festival I have decided to explore some of the various relationships between photography and the world without defining a central subject. The curator is, for me, too often given free rein to push artists’ works into their own tight conceptual frameworks and to change the original context in the process. Within this festival the artists’ original works are, as much as is possible when grouped with others, kept true to the original intention. The questions around all of the photographic works in this festival, and around all photographic exhibitions, are really only answered by the levels of belief, empathy and shared value that the audience member either does or does not have in common with the artist and the ideas they work to explore.
With the series of exhibitions that make up From the Outside, Looking In, I have taken the position that everything and nothing is true, and that all photographic modes have the potential to be simultaneously valid as both fabrications and hard evidence. The works on show range from disputed documents to validated fictions and everything in between. I aim to encourage the audience to consider the question of the necessity of photographic veracity in revealing valid positions. I hope that these ideas, or the discreet or obvious connections between the works across the festival programme, are enough to provoke independent thought and discussion.