Eastreet started as an experiment and continues to be one after three years now. Its formula is simple from the very beginning – open call, curators selection and the presentation of results in the form of an exhibition and a publication. The thing is that the results are unknown almost until the end of the process. There are no previously adopted assumptions, motifs or themes. Even the final number of photographs is not specified. All of this dynamically emerges in the process of creating Eastreet at the editing table. And this process is neither fast nor simple. This year, some 10.000 images by photographers from all over the world participate in Eastreet, which is twice as many as a year ago. During a several-weeks selection process, the group of five curators chose 82 photographs from 18 countries of Eastern Europe for the final presentation.
The third Eastreet is seemingly not very different from the previous editions. Once again it is multi-layered, sometimes even absurd and surrealistic. It is once again that we face stereotypes. There are familiar frames htat we, as residents of this region, can read very well and with neighbour’s forbearance. This understanding of the way people live here is certainly important. But when we look at these seemingly unsurprising shots, all the places and situations captured by photographers, something grabs us by the throat, by the heart. And it brings us to laughter or to tears.
We tried to avoid dazzling with exotica, because the objective of Eastreet is not to prove how things are different and unexpected here. The encountered scenery is naturally rich in surprises and provides us with many experiences, as befits street photography. A London-themed wall mural in a Polish diner or a Romanian (and a Serbian) dinosaur are sufficiently clear signals of pretending to be something else. We are not completely here, there is always some there, some elsewhere. Typical elements of Eastern European urban landscape, all those remains of the fallen regimes, such as irreplaceable monuments, mosaics, and the whole architectural concepts seem to fade away. Paradoxically enough, they got overgrown with newness to such an extent that they have turned to be almost unnoticeable, contrary to their original mission. They serve, at best, only as a background for everyday events.
The presented landscape rarely features regular and well-structured views. It probably had to, but it did not come off. This landscape seem to encompass everything, including a modern office building of western laboratories, a new bus shelter pretending to be a teleporter, a dumplings booth cut in wood, and an advertisement of a limousine or safety matches tied on with strings. This landscape is a capacious one and can tell much about the mind-set of public space’s users. Much to the consternation of planners, aesthetics is relegated to the background to such an extent that it has become negligible long ago. A street photographer notices everything. Standing aside, framing a picture to show us fragments of the space we perfectly know, but at the same time to direct our attention to nuances, to all those things that come together into a far greater image. A do-it-yourself Mercedes badge, a car trunk used for transporting meat, a galley moored in the centre of the city— the list goes on. A broken pane that is indicative of people’s modest respect to public places can amaze us with its plasticity. The waiting and moving in a queue we are all well familiar with, appears to be fascinating when shown in a close-up of mingled hands and clothes textures.
It is difficult not to notice that some of the thousands of photographs submitted to this year’s contest allude to images presented in the previous years in the form of quoting, drawing inspirations and engaging in a dialogue with what we try to tell through Eastreet. And it makes us happy, as it signals that this project is not an empty idea, but a living and evolving phenomenon—a clear message or rather a question we try to answer together. It is the question about the space that surrounds us, its genesis, its today’s shape and its future, as well as our own place in this space and the way we define it and the way it defines us.
The primary objective of Eastreet is simple and it is the same which set the ground for photography—to show how something looks like. It would be naive to think that we could portray such a dynamic and complex region, changing just before our eyes, by means of one or three exhibitions. That is why we are pleased with Eastreet’s evolution, the growing support for the project, and the fact that photographers working in the region of Eastern Europe accept the challenge. The portrait of this region that we create together is by no means complete and final. It is not fully objective either. But it is, without a doubt, honest.
Joanna Kinowska, Tomasz Kulbowski
The power of a moment
“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face,” wrote Albert Camus. It is a bad idea to amend masters’ quotes, but I would like to add that one can protect oneself from a blow only by raising a camera to his eye. This is because a film (let’s stay for a while in a pre-digital age) can stand any absurdity.
A street was always near by, at least if we consider that period of history when photography already existed. Probably it was not by chance that the camera was invented in the period of a rapid development of cities that continues until today. Our metropolises were swelling, and so were the archives of photos taken by the camera. Indeed, photography means first of all the city, and the city means first of all the street. After all, it has always been the easiest to go outdoors. And if one had a sufficiently trained eye, he could see and photograph almost everything. Daguerre, who put his camera on a balcony and took a photo of Boulevard du Temple, was the first one who recognized the street as a subject for photography. The picture he made presents us with the sunlit boulevard that is suspiciously empty, given the time and place in which the photo was taken. In the foreground, one can see only a man standing in the pose of someone who is having his shoes cleaned. However, there are neither other people, nor carriages, nor cabs, nor all that jazz that we could expect to see in a Paris street at noon. Daguerre was exposing a metal plate for a dozen or so minutes. The plate captured only the image of an unaware gentleman who stood motionless waiting until his shoes were clean enough. Everyone else “disappeared”, got blurred in space and time—we can only guess at their existence.
Streets were close to being erased from the maps of our cities. This sentence sounds somewhat abstract, because how can one draw the map of a city without drawing streets? Le Corbusier was the one who knew the answer (at least he believed he knew). This was a great and fierce man. For him, the street as a form of spatial organization was a barbarian relic and a scandalous anachronism. The relic of what? The one of nineteenth-century class divisions that were reflected not only in architecture, but also in motley crowds walking by the streets of the cities. For Corbu, the nineteenth-century concept of a street was the negation of the modern city’s comfort and equity, the symbol of darkness, ignorance and backwardness. Modernist urban agglomerations were to become cities deprived of streets and crossed by highways built in such a manner as not to interfere with pedestrian traffic. Le Corbusier, thank heavens, failed to implement this idea, but we have to grapple with the architectural sham stemming from this kind of thinking until today.
Streets, however, have survived and along with them there developed something that is quite wrongly called street photography. I don’t like this phrase as it describes nothing. Besides, it points to something that is not essential in photographs, including the ones presented in this collection. But we need some words to describe the phenomenon, so let’s deal with the ones we already use. But if one would like to look back to the sources (and sometimes it is really worth to), one cannot overlook Robert Frank and his already classic series,“The Americans”. Some more radical adepts must have been horrified to hear the artist confess after several decades that he took part of these photos in haste, not even looking through the camera’s viewfinder.
Now that the number of cameras in the streets almost equals the number of people walking there, the impulsiveness to which Frank confessed is no longer surprising. Everyone is taking photos, this is a truism. Few people know what for, including photographers themselves. And this can only partly be explained by the words of another great street photographer Garry Winogrand who told, “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.” Are we guided by the same wish? Time and again, I accidentally find photos in my phone that I took once just to forget about them immediately. It did not occur to me to look through them later. It is as if the fact of taking a photo of something absolves me from taking a glance.
Serendipity is an immanent feature of photography. It is an ability of accidentally making fortunate discoveries. But nothing is accidental as far as regards the photos gathered in Eastreet. Instead, there are scores of fortunate discoveries. Here, photography demonstrates its potential of being a cognitive tool at its best. Through photography, we not only document the world, we cognize it. We learn more about it, and the way we learn is more definite and clear. Photographing makes us be active, be on the move, look at the world as a system of constantly moving spots, shapes, and textures. This temporary flattening unexpectedly leads us to depth, as we discover the complexity, absurdity and sentimentality of the surrounding world in a photo print. Also there we find evidence and incentive, and I would even say, a resolute order to stop more often as we walk through our life.
The list of photographers selected for Eastreet 3:
Ana Alexandrescu, Julia Autz, Siarhei Balai, Norman Behrendt, Marek M. Berezowski, Aliaksei Bibikau, Maciej Biedrzycki, M. Scott Brauer, Maksym Chychynskyi, Paolo Ciregia, Paulina Czarnecka, Michał Czarnecki, Tomasz Desperak, Anargyros Drolapas, Nikolay Dutkin, Garry Efimov, David Gaberle, Maciej Gapiński, Emil Gataullin, George Gavrilakis, Florin Ghebosu, Reinis Hofmanis, Julie Hrudová, Eleni Ioannidou, Mikhail Izopeskov, Jadwiga Janowska, Adrian Jaszczak, Evgeny Kamenev, Christos Kapatos, Athanasios Karatzas, Zisis Kardianos, Andreas Katsakos, Ertugrul Kilic, Ivan Kleymenov, Evgeniya Kurtina, Monika Łopacka, George Marazakis, Galia Nazaryants, Maria Novoselova, Paul Osipoff, Oguz Ozkan, Haris Panagiotakopoulos, Marina Paulenka, Aleksandra Perović Mihajlovic, Serge Poliakov, Anton Polyakov, Sergey Poteryaev, Kateryna Radchenko, Marta Rybicka, Juliya Skorobogatova, Stavros Stamatiou, Magdalena Świtek, Karol Szymkowiak, Hajdu Tamas, Denis Taraskin, Vasile Catalin Tomoiaga, Darya Trofimova, Vladimir Troyan, Aleksey Tudakov, Andrey Tulnov, Balázs Varga, Lukas Vasilikos, Tomasz Wiechnik, Natalia Wierzbicka, Krzysztof Wójcik, Yauhen Yerchak, Vadim Zamirovski, Spiros Zervoudakis, Maxim Zhuravko.