EASTREET is an exhibition of street photography from Eastern Europe initiated in Lublin, Poland in 2013. Second edition is scheduled for 11-31 July 2014.
The Eastreet exhibition is the first initiative of this kind and scale dealing with street photography from the countries of Eastern Europe. Within less than two months of the open call we received in the whole more than 4.000 photos sent by photographers from around the world including Asia, Europe and both Americas. These photographs were made under different circumstances and in different time, using various approaches and all sorts of equipment, from mobile phones to medium format analog cameras. All of them are united by the same objective: to have a closer look at and to show an individual set in the context of Eastern Europe’s public spaces using that spontaneous, unique and non-posing approach for which we love street photography so much.
The quality of photographs we received was no less surprising than their quantity. As a result of two stages of the selection process, we chose about 300 really strong photos, which were later discussed online and within a series of editorial meetings of four curators including Joanna Kinowska, Aleksander Bochenek, Grzegorz Ostręga and Tomasz Kulbowski.
As we agreed at the very beginning, we wanted Eastreet to be an exhibition of photography and not the one of photographers. That is why during the whole selection process we were guided first of all by the quality of pictures and their narrative, and in a lesser degree by the names or achievements of particular artists. This is how the final group of 82 photographs comprising Eastreet has been selected.
The basic and evident goal of Eastreet is to collect and present a cross-section of street photography created in the countries of Eastern Europe. New-York spots of light, suits seen in the City of London, Paris side streets and Asian urban jungles – all seem so familiar to us, but we still do not know quite well what is going on in the streets of our neighbours in Eastern Europe. In this sense, Eastreet is a natural consequence of interest in photography and discovering the world through it.
Eastreet is our proposal to look at the proverbial streets of Eastern Europe. We peep into the well-known public spaces of the region. We watch ourselves and our neighbours, familiar places and areas that are stuck in our memories. Street photography is a special kind of reportage and document. It shows us passing moments, unique situations, a series of associations and references within one frame. It discovers something we are passing by each day paying no attention to it. A street photographer always finds in these familiar spaces something inspiring, something new and surprising. They say the most difficult is to take pictures at home and in the nearest environment, while the easiest thing is to do it on excursion to a tourist destination. Eastreet definitely refutes this prejudice. It turns out that these well-known places, our neighbourhoods, are often no less exotic than overseas countries. Our everyday reality located far from spectacular events and phenomena fostered by the media, can be inspiring just as well.
Street photography has been gaining extreme popularity for a dozen years or so. Internet forums and galleries, exhibitions, publications, contests and workshops attract crowds of viewers. Eastreet may happen to become the beginning of a platform used for sharing ideas and images, mutual inspiration and integration of street photographers operating in Eastern Europe. A platform that would open a discussion and make it possible to follow the development of the genre, an event that would go on, evolve and became a recurrent one.
We can finally ask ourselves whether the Eastern European street photography is any different from the Western one. Where will we find more of surreal events? Is it the case that—just like in any other photography genre—the East looks at the West in search of trends and inspirations? Or have the viewers and photographers been already fed up with Manhattan and the City? Maybe the time has come for less photographed places?
What are we searching for in photographs from the East? All those who live there, are sure to be waiting for an acute and fresh eye in order to learn something new about the region. The complete outsiders are struggling with stereotypes and inevitable Iron Curtain-based associations. In the meanwhile, the Eastreet exhibition combines the two expectations: we watch unreal, almost ‘staged’ situations in a space where the brotherly friendship between democratic peoples has left its everlasting imprint. We learn about how our neighbours cope with the legacy of the preceding political system, how they treat their environment, how they are getting on and the way they dress. The exhibition features the works which allow us to peep into the resort destinations of the East and the South: starting from Mariupol and Koktebel (Ukraine) and finishing with Durrës (Albania). How different are the downtown streets of Moscow (Russia), Warsaw (Poland), Gori (Georgia) and Baku (Azerbaijan). We are sure enough to participate in feasts and rituals, such as the ones in the village of Nowice in Southern Poland, in Tirana’s suburbs in Albania and in Tbilisi, Georgia. Sometimes the colours and arrangements of houses and street nameplates, booths and advertisements from the streets and suburbs, turn to be the main characters of photographs. A political thread is present here, too: the Red Square in Moscow, Poland’s eagle clearly from the previous era, as well as the curtain and window-sill in Boskovice (Czech Republic), so much reminding of the old times.
Eastreet features a few special photographs, which may serve as road signs at the exhibition. One of them is a picture shot by the Italian photographer Federico Caponi. Here is a tiger—a soft and plushy one, graphic and artificial, awfully typical to that part of the world. Not the scented leather of the Western world of advertisements, but a predator substitute, impudent and imitated. Artem Zhitenev made his self-portrait in an almost cinematographic scenery of a glamorous street of Moscow. We can see the modern buildings, glass and aluminium in a uniquely home-grown style, a fragment of the Communist architecture piece and, on top of that, towers of a church. The whole picture is lit with orange light just before twilight—an ideal synthesis. Maciej Jeziorek winked at street photography lovers. His picnic behind a supermarket store echoes Henri Cartier Bresson’s “Sunday on the banks of the River Marne”. What a change occurred between the year of 1938 and 2012, between France and Poland, between the two eras and half a continent, the greatest change being that of our pass time, work and dress.
Eastreet, first of all, should be a celebration of street photography, its potential and its importance as art, document and everyday creative activity. Our goal is not to show a definitive picture or to give the final answer about the condition of street photography in Eastern Europe. Just the opposite: we hope that Eastreet will leave us with more questions than answers. We expect it to take us by surprise, to arrange unexpected scenarios, to combine seemingly evident and familiar elements into completely new configurations and intriguing associations.
Just like street photography should.
Joanna Kinowska, Tomasz Kulbowski
Lublin, September 2013