KOLGA Tbilisi Photo by Kate Mellor

I was invited by curator Tina Schelhorn to take part in an exhibition at KOLGA Tbilisi Photo. Her idea for an exhibition was “Tales of Islands” which included Marc Räder’s “Island in Progress” about Mallorca, Osamu James Nakagawa’s work on a suicide cave in Japan and Sanne de Wilde’s work which responded to an island in the Pacific where a high proportion of the population are colourblind.  I was familiar with Marc Räder’s work which had been part of the show Mediterranean: Between Reality and Utopia at The Photographer’s Gallery in London. Tina wanted to exhibit some old work of mine from Island: The Sea Front and I was thankful to show it again as it hasn’t been on the walls for about 15 years although it toured worldwide from mid 1990s to about 2005. I began the project in 1989 when Britain was building the Channel Tunnel. At the time there was much discussion about Britain’s identity, its legacy, and whether it could really think of itself as part of Europe. The photography took me about four years to do: there are 48 locations in the series each 50 kms apart and the horizon line falls exactly in the centre of each panoramic photograph. The horizon was significant to the work, a line that appears as a boundary, yet a spatial phenomenon that doesn’t really exist. A historic piece of work but very relevant to today’s current affairs. 

The show was held in an ancient caravanserai in the Old Town of Tbilisi. Visiting Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is pretty exotic. The city itself is a mix of historical buildings, some decaying, which have characteristic verandas, and ultra modern ‘signature’ buildings. The country lies beyond Turkey, on the Black Sea and shares a border with Azerbaijan. 

KOLGA turned out to be a much bigger festival of photography than I previously thought with many exhibitions in well-known galleries and alternative venues. There were usually three launches per night, I went to them all and they attracted crowds of people.  

One of the exhibitions that I enjoyed the most was “OSTLOOK: What to do with History?”  This exhibition was curated by Jewgeni Roppel and was a mix of documentary and more experimental fine art work. Julia Borissova’s project “Running to the Edge” used found photographs with plant material laid over the top, not a method that usually works visually for me. It was about the period of Russian emigration in the 1920s and the effect of memory. The work was quite eloquent and manipulated how one thought about the subjects of the original photographs. At the same time the addition of plant material challenged simplistic ideas about photography’s documentary role. More direct and more than a little amusing was Nils Ackermann’s “Looking for Lenin” in the same show, a documentary tracing of all the statues of Lenin that had been rejected and had disappeared from the landscape.

Among the documentary photography on show was the very hard-hitting work from “Ni Una Menos” by Karl Mancini about feminicide in Argentina. The situation, (which you can read more about on Karl’s website) is not much known about in Britain, the photographs desperately sad.

The KOLGA Award for reportage went to Mustafa Hasona. You may have seen his image from the Palestinian Rights of Return Protests of a man with a sling holding the Palestinian Flag. If not, you can find it on the KOLGA site under award winners.

Scroll down on the KOLGA site and you will find that the award for conceptual photography was given to me for “Topographies of the Image.”


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