It’s one of those experiences where you come back to Slovenia and you literally want to sit back in the car and drive another 1100 km back to where you came from.
The Girl Inside story was a finalist among the 20 multimedia stories shown at the Lumix festival in Hanover, Germany, so I decided to go and see this biggest photojournalism festival in Germany. It took ages to get people to come with me, but eventually three of us went. We booked an apartment, although a little late which caused some worries, but everything turned out excellent. I drove all the way to Hanover. It’s just over 1000 km, but German highways are a joy to drive on. In fact, they’re so great that I don’t even blame them for so many construction sites. They’re so smooth that the car is flying off the hook without adding much gas, and therefore the consumption is pretty low. Much lower than in Slovenia. Or maybe even my car doesn’t like Slovenia. :) After realizing my old demented Garmin hasn’t got a clue again, I had my copilot Nina navigate the highways perfectly. It wasn’t complicated either, because Hanover is almost straight up north. A 1000 km of highways.
After 13 hours we got to the outskirts of Hanover and drove past the design center of the Expo Park with a huge poster of the festival over a great part of its front facade. Our apartment was just 5 minutes away by car. A nice man showed us the apartment that was beautifully furnished, comfortable, Wi-Fi, TV (all channels were in German, but soccer is universal!) and a balcony. Pizza and ice cream on the ground floor. Bakery behind the building. A supermarket two minutes away by foot. That’s what I call perfect. A quiet and calm neighborhood, hardly any people anywhere, just a lot of German flags (they’re crazy about football). The supermarket was about the size of a Spar in my neighborhood at home, but was stocked up better than the biggest shopping mall grocery stores in Ljubljana. We proved that old belief that you shouldn’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, but when we got the bill for only 20 eur, we couldn’t believe it. Interestingly, pretty much everything in Hanover was cheaper than in Slovenia. Parking for the entire day in the Expo Park: 6 eur. Or none if you had polio as a child and a handicapped card is now paying for all you had to go through. :)
That first night something seemed a bit off. It kind of felt we’re going to sleep before the sun went down. And getting up for the toilet at 4 a. m. and seeing light outside was also creepy. But we soon realized that we’re so far north that the sun sets at around 22:30 and starts creeping up again at around 4:00. For someone who falls asleep when it’s pitch dark and wakes up if the room lights up (the door to the balcony had no blinds) and the birds start singing, this might be a problem. :) But I got used to it quick.
On the day of the opening of the festival we took a stroll through the old city center of Hanover, which is two small streets big, basically the same as my hometown. But it’s cozy, no crowd, no heavy traffic, no traffic jams, no idiots on the road, free parking for two and a half hours, handicapped parking spaces everywhere – and unoccupied, unlike in the Balkan countries, where nobody gives a damn where they park. :)
In the afternoon, the whole festival experience started. Boy, what a venue! The Expo Park where the Expo 2000 exhibition was located with all the architectural wonders hosted 60 photo exhibitions from young photojournalists from all over the world. And after visiting Visa pour l’Image for 6 years, I can honestly say the quality of work here strongly competes with its French big brother. The main venue was the Design center, which is in fact a faculty for media studies, photojournalism and documentary photography, and design. A square-shaped glass building with an open space in the middle and classrooms and workshops on the left and right. Under the open space middle platform there was an auditorium where all the lectures and the opening took place. Next to it was a photo studio transformed into a screening room for watching the multimedia stories. The place in front of these two rooms was a bookstore during the festival and a place where you could watch multimedia stories on the computer as well.
The front and the back sides of the design center building were just balconies with a railing. The students of the school designed a wooden mount to place the exhibitions on the railings in four levels on both sides. In fact the entire festival is run by students under the leadership of their professor Rolf Nobel. It made me wonder if such a things would even be possible in my country with the popular mentality and all.
We were blown away at seeing the inside of the design center upon our arrival. We got our accreditations at the info point, then walked through the Sigma, GoPro, Freelens, Panasonic etc. stands on the middle platform and after listening to only a few talks at the opening down in the auditorium decided to start with the exhibitions. We had roughly 4 days to see 60 exhibitions. :D And no, we couldn’t do without fooling around with a fisheye lens. ;)
There were lectures in the auditorium of the Design center every day at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. You had to buy a ticket for three eur for each one, or if you were an exhibitor at the festival, you could go in for free. But if it was sold out, you had a chance to go “next door” to the photo studio where you could watch the lecture on the big screen live. They actually had two big cameras set up on those big TV studio rigs with hydraulic handling and apparently also a director, because someone was switching between two angles and the lecturers computer feed. :) All lectures were simultaneously translated into English as well. By far the best lecture was by Zed Nelson who made it quite amusing as well showing photos and talking about his books Gun Nation and Love Me. By far the most shocking, but gripping lecture was by Alixandra Fazzina from Noor who jumped in instead of Kadir van Lohuizen who couldn’t make it. We’ve also seen a lot of cold places in the images of Justin Jin (Russian Far North) and Ragnar Axelsson (Iceland), a lot of Russia in the images of Rob Hornstra (The Sochi Project), Maxim Dondyuk (Protests in Ukraine) and Gerd Ludwig (The Long Shadow of Chernobyl), and some pretty unusual photos (including nudists) from Michael von Graffenried.
The festival started with “Meet the photographer” at 11:00 each day. Authors of exhibitions presented their work in front of their exhibitions. We haven’t attended many, because we decided to see all the exhibitions and we didn’t have time. But we did attend the one by Mustafah Abdulaziz, an American working on a worldwide project on the topic of water. The exhibitions were placed in eight venues of the south end of the Expo Park. One of them was outside in the gardens, that’s where 14 exhibitions were. The weather in Hanover is “northern” so it was cold and it rained a bit, so we saw those exhibitions in two parts – one was just before we hit the road to go back home. One of the exhibitions that were really hard to watch was in the BMW center. Hard to watch because some of us couldn’t decide whether to watch those 200 30,000+ eur BMW’s in the salon or the photos. (There was another BMW salon next door, with motorcycles as well, and a Ferrari salon nearby). Most awesome venue (besides the Design center) was the Skywalk, a tube with a moving walkway (a travellator) in the middle that is usually used for quick transport of visitors from one end of the Expo Park to the other. Now there were 18 exhibitions set up in the middle on the travellator. I’ve seen some of the best images there like Ryan Spencer Reed’s photos of American soldiers in Afghanistan, Rahul Talukder’s images of the collapse of Rana Plaza etc. It took as two hours to see everything. Then we headed over to Ikea for lunch. :) Although there were food stands in front of the Design center. The story that won the prestigious Freelens award of 10,000 eur and a statuette of a photographer was about female circumcisions in Kenya, an illegal practice still carried out, “because it’s tradition”, photographed by Finish photographer Meeri Koutaniemi, a freelancer who already photographed in over 30 countries ;). Talk about a different category. People’s Choice award went to Andrea Gjestvang for her portraits of Utoya massacre survivors. The Lammerhuber Photography Award that recognizes the story that depicts daily life in the most impressive way went to Fara Phoebe Zetsche for her story about Stray Kids on the streets of Berlin.
On Friday, I had a portfolio review with Pall Stefansson, an Icelander who calls himself a bit crazy, but was quite a good guy to talk to. An hour later there was a Q&A in the photo studio where the multimedia stories were screened all throughout the festival. 20 multimedia stories were chosen out of nearly 200 submitted to the competition. There were seven of us answering questions from the audience that day. I had a feeling that the story of Barbara made quite an impact. And I liked the questions from the audience. They were very intelligent, things I was never asked, things that not many people think of in terms of how we do these stories…
I was glad authors of some of the best multimedia stories were there. Chris Capozziello with his absolutely amazing story of addiction “A State of Mind”, Emanuele Satolli with his horrifying story about the drug Krokodil, Cristina Cassotto with an intimate look at an elderly couple Vibeke and Knud and Patrick Slesiona multimedia team behind a story about a man who led a double life, had a wife and a fiancée, then tried to kill his fiancée, ended up in jail, and eventually returned to his wife who forgave him. As I spoke with Chris about his story I immediately knew it’s by far the most intimate, difficult, a bit shocking, but eventually positive story. It’s in how close he followed the girl fighting with addiction, getting out and relapsing, and getting pregnant and using while pregnant and how that little baby changed everything and turned the story into a positive one. Four years and still going, the story won the multimedia prize of 5,000 eur along with Slesiona’s story about the guy with a double life. Very well deserved!
Our schedule for the last two days was quite tight. The award ceremony was in the evening of the 21st June and we were leaving the next morning. Considering it was the longest day of the year, a late ending of the ceremony, and an early wake up, I wasn’t really sure how I’ll manage to drive 13 hours back home. But I loved it. There were way too much traffic jams at construction sites, but they didn’t really bother me much or made me tired. It took us more than 13 hours to get back, but I could’ve driven at least 500 km more. :) From my experience coming from a country without much future, where everything is more or less “a black hole” as I call it, life reserved for the chosen, corruption, favoring crime and immorality etc. I realized there’s no better energy boost than LIFE. But just as an energy drink would leave you empty and wasted in the morning, so does coming back to this country. It was an awesome time in Hanover and I honestly can’t wait to go back next year. :)