Hanna Kantor, the Editor-in-Chief of OpenCall Magazine, in a conversation with Maciej Bujko, the Leader of the TIFF Festival.
TIFF Festival is a photography festival organised every year in Wroclaw. Its main goal is “to animate and stimulate the photographic life in the city and region”. However, TIFF apart from stimulating cultural life in Wroclaw is also an international photography competition with an open call. This year the theme is called “Processes”. The deadline for submissions is 20/04/20.
In this interview, we talk about the TIFF festival slightly different. Usually, the descriptions of exhibitions and comments from curators and artists are comprehensive. That’s why I wanted to ask Maciej Bujko about the invisible part of the festival – the organisation process.
But first, let’s start from the beginning…
Hanna Kantor: The first edition of the TIFF Festival was held in 2011 in Wroclaw. How everything has started?
Maciej Bujko: We started as a cycle of meetings with Polish and German photographers. We were cooperating with the Goethe Institute as a project on a monthly basis. We were organising one meeting every month during first four months. After a while, the idea has evolved and we started to organise a festival that takes place now every year for about one month and is full of events, meetings and exhibitions.
Who came up with the idea of a photographic festival in Wroclaw?
I was the initiator of the festival idea. However, these kinds of projects you never do by yourself so I started to do it with my friends. They were as much important in the process as my presence. After all these years the group of people who I worked with has changed completely. But for the last few seasons, we have a great team.
Let’s come back to the main topic of our conversation. Tell me more about how looks the production process of TIFF.
By definition, TIFF Festival is a small festival. I work with a group of curators and organisers the whole year. We install the exhibitions by ourselves with the help of gallery partners. To be honest, exhibitions are only 50% of TIFF’s events. The other 50% that we organise are meetings, workshops, film displays. Every festival’s organisation process I start from choosing people for the Programme Committee. Apart from me in the TIFF Foundation, there is Paulina Galanciak who is the standing member and she promotes and organise events as well. Every year the members of the Programme Committee change so in the end there are around 12 people who are involved in the organisation.
Interview with 2019 TIFF Festival open call winner
What is your relationship with photography?
I graduated photography from the National Film School in Łódź in Poland and the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava in Czech Republic. I’ve a Ph.D. in photography. I don’t say that I do photography, I rather use photography as a medium, I work with archives. I’m more a curator and “programmer” of the festival than a photographer.
On hand, you had Opava, on the other hand, Łódź – two cultural centers, both very engaged in the image creation process. Why did you decide to organise TIFF in Wroclaw?
Wroclaw is my hometown :). I found out that in Wroclaw 10 years ago the photographic scene was very poor. By the time there weren’t events dedicated to photographers or photography lovers. After all, I think Wroclaw is a great city, a very good place to live in but not the best place for artists and curators. I think that in Poland, apart from Warsaw, there are no cities good for artists.
However, the three most famous, prestigious international photographic festivals in Poland are not organised in Warsaw. I mean Krakow Photomonth Festival, Fotofestiwal in Lodz and obviously TIFF Festival in Wroclaw.
In general, we have a lot of photographic festivals in Poland. What is good that every single one is different. Fotofestiwal in Lodz is very focused on photography as the medium. The competition for the artists is called Grand Prix and they award not the project as a result of the curator and the artist’s collaboration but ready photographs. ShowOff in Krakow is a photographic festival but they are open to different media as well. Recruited artists work with curators and the final exhibition is huge. I think this is the biggest photography competition in Poland. TIFF is a small festival and thanks to that it is a big platform for experiments. What is cool that we have a specific, cosy atmosphere during the festival. What is tricky that we try to invite curators that sometimes don’t have a direct connection with photography.
How many submissions do you receive?
Last year we received 350 submissions including 80 submissions from international artists. Every artist had a chance to send us 2 projects.
As you said, TIFF is the international festival even though it is a quite small one. How people from abroad find out about the open call of TIFF?
We are a part of Polish Paradise, an unofficial union of three festivals in Poland – Fotofestiwal, Krakow Photomonth, and TIFF. Together we have the same aim to promote polish photography events worldwide. We take part in the biggest European art festivals, sometimes we are in the jury of portfolio reviews, we also give leaflets to the audience about open calls and the possibility to join the festival.
For the young artist, open call is a big chance to debut. How the recruitment process looks like?
We have a special system. Programme Committee and curators vote, we have preselection and selection. Every voter has 3 options YES, NO and “!” which is a magic key blocker that doesn’t allow to disqualified the artist by other voters. Every voter has 5 “!”. After we have to summarise and select artists. We go through all of the submissions and read every description carefully. During the selection, we meet and discuss the artworks on the big screen.
Do you have any tips for the young photographers for the upcoming open call?
What I would like to say to the young artists that if you haven’t been chosen it doesn’t mean that your work is not good enough. It means only that in this edition there were curators that probably prefer to work with someone else because it matches their point of view, interest or media tools. Also, we can award only 3-4 artworks every year. If we could we would choose many more projects. The fundamental tip for the people who would like to submit is focus on the description of your project. It is very important to describe yourself and the project properly. If you don’t know how to write it – ask someone to help you. If you can write – anyway give it to read to your friends, let them check it. Do they understand the message of your artwork? Every description has to be explained well. Very often the reason why we don’t choose the project is that the text doesn’t match the photographs.
What are the most common mistakes that people do during the submission?
In the guideline, it’s written that the minimum number of the submitted pictures is 3. Very very often people send ONLY 3 when you can add more… With 3 pictures it is difficult to tell the story. So, the second tip for the artists is please read the guideline :).
The last question is about volunteering. If someone would like to take part in the festival but not as a photographer what he or she has to do?
Every year we do open recruitment for the volunteers. The first deadline is in July. Last year the volunteers did the zin, organised their own exhibition so we would like to involve them in the creating process.
What are the requirements?
None. Everyone can join us!