Bag on Året, København 2018 /  Behind the Year, Copenhagen 2018

Blankt Papir Press was founded in 2017 by the art photographer Julia Mejnertsen and is  described as a nano-publishing house.

Through 2018 they collaborated with 80 Copenhagen-based photographers to produce images of the city and it's citizens that were published as 12 books - one for each month - with a limited run of 100 for each.

The premise was that "Copenhagen has been named as 'the most liveable city in the world' several times and we have seen many beautiful vistas of the Danish capital, but reality is always far more complex."

The photographs were shown at the Machine Hall through the Copenhagen Photo Festival as a series of booklets … each the work of one photograph and with the works arranged by the month to which they contributed.

Blankt Papir Press

Copenhagen Photo Festival - Festival Center Refshaleøen

 

For the Copenhagen Photo Festival, the centre is over on Reshaleøen at the north end of the harbour - out beyond Christianshavn and Holmen - on the site of former shipyards.

Many of the workshops, office buildings and dry docks of the yards survive in various states but the area has seen a rapid transformation over the last couple of years with new restaurants, the food market of Reffen - now here for its second summer - a bakery and flea market along with a major new gallery of modern art - Copenhagen Contemporary - now also in it's second season.

The photo festival is spread over three main venues and each with a very different character as exhibition space.

At the north end is a group of stacked shipping containers with open ends where the works of Franziska Gill and Marco Marzocchi are shown and outside, on scrub land with the footings of demolished buildings, are the photographs of White Rage by Espen Rasmussen and the large images for Living Room by Jana Sophia Nolle.

All these works are essentially photo journalism and all gain from the temporary and therefore immediate feel of the spaces where a more traditional and polite modern gallery could make the images appear detached from the subjects. In particular, the images of White Rage seem even more of a challenge when seen outside against trees and rough grass as if they are in a post-conflict site of destruction.

To the south, close to the food market, the Machine Workshop is a huge space that provides the venue for Censored - the main open show for fine art photography - the exhibition Hail by Garrett O Hansen; a video installation - KOMA RETREAT - by Mathias Løvgreen and the installation Behind the Year by the independent publisher Blankt Papir Press.

The space above Copenhagen Contemporary with photographs by Mary Frey could not be more of a contrast. It's a vast and light space with an amazing roof and all recently restored. These enormous halls will be used by Copenhagen Contemporary for work with schools and for additional exhibitions beyond or rather above the space of the vast galleries below. For the Photo Festival access was by a relatively narrow metal staircase with a straight single flight that seemed to go on and on climbing for ever - almost surreal.

Copenhagen Photo Festival continues until 16 June 2019

 

Refshaleøen as a venue for the Copenhagen Photo Festival

Although there are exhibitions all over the city, Refshaleøen is the centre for the Copenhagen Photo Festival.

The area - with huge but abandoned buildings from the shipyards here until the 1990s - has an incredible atmosphere - part dereliction and decay and part alive with energy as the area is being transformed.

It's definitely photogenic with amazing materials, colours and texture and with strong contrasts between areas of decay hard against buildings and areas being given a new life.

But there is an odd disjunction ….

The area has become a playground for the city. Of course that's not in itself a bad thing because Copenhagen needs somewhere where people can make a noise - the heavy metal festival Copenhell is out here at the end of the month - or make a mess and it's somewhere artists and makers and young start-up companies can find work space with low or relatively low rents for now in this interim period before developers and money men move in and they are driven out. The area feels consciously edgy but maybe slightly hyper because everyone knows the clock is ticking.

There are actually expensive places here to eat and drink alongside a huge variety of foods from the food market … and I'm not knocking any of that … I'm as middle class as you can get and come out here to Lille Bakery to buy some of the best bread in the city … but ……

And this is where my inner puritan kicks in …Refshaleøen was a huge and, for the post-war Danish economy, a crucial industrial site where thousands of men worked and worked hard and the memory of that is fading and disappearing. Machinery, hoists, cranes have all gone with little remaining to tell you what was done and where.

I'm not romanticising work that must, for many, have been hard and grim. It's just that it is now 30 years since ships were made here so there must be fewer and fewer people alive who actually worked in the yards. Should people now still try to understand all that and remember? Do we need to understand how we got here to make sense of where we are going?

If you stopped any of the foreign students arriving in droves on their bikes or any of the tourists off the ferry and asked them then very few would even know that this part of the city had been a shipyard. Does that matter?

My first trips to Copenhagen were after the ship yards closed, so I have no first-hand idea of what this area was like through the 1950s and 1960s, except from looking at old photos and maps  and maybe that is the other odd thing that few visitors will understand … this land was claimed from the sea, became a major industrial area and failed and dismantled and abandoned in just three decades. In an age when we are more and more concerned about our impact on our planet, is Refshaleøen a stark example of man moving in, transforming a landscape and moving on leaving the mess … so a monument to hubris … or a lesson in pragmatism … our ability to salvage and make something new once the old is no longer of use?

And if I missed the shipyards, I do remember the area before gentrification began … exploring and taking odd photographs of scrap yards and wire fences and vicious guard dogs and feeling uneasy, knowing I was intruding, and waiting to be challenged or seen off at any moment.

Again I'm not romanticising that in any way but maybe cities need scruffy land on the edge of regulations and outside planning and controls although, I guess, that is not on the agenda of the politicians and developers.

Then & Now

Then & Now.jpeg
 

 

As part of the Copenhagen Photo Festival, there is a pop-up exhibition in a shop in Købmagergade. It must be between tenants but this is an appropriate location for the show as there are several photographs of this main city-centre shopping street in the exhibition.

The idea is simple but interesting: a series of street views, taken in Copenhagen by Jens Nielsen in 1968, are shown alongside photographs of exactly the same views taken by Isabel and Peter Aagaard fifty years later.

All the photographs - both those taken in 1968 and the recent photographs - are in black and white and shows that colour in photographs can be a distraction. Of course, through the 20th century, black-and-white photography was the stock choice for photo journalism and was used by photographers wanting to examine aspects of society … frequently recording aspects of day-to-day life that reflected wealth or lack of wealth in a society.

Most of the photographs shown were taken within the central historic core of the city and it is actually heartening to see just how little has changed over fifty years. A few of the buildings have had inappropriate frontages added for new shop windows or for corporate logos and signage but many many more have been improved because cheap and crude shop fronts dating from the mid 20th century have been removed and more appropriate shop fronts and signs put up. It shows a broad and growing respect for the quality of the architectural details of the old buildings although some would argue that this is creeping gentrification or conservation pandering to the middle classes and the tourists who want pretty pretty rather than anything that is rationally commercial.

Of course that period around 1968 was one of significant political protests and contention across Europe but that is not reflected in the earlier views here. 

It is the small and odd details recorded in the photos that is interesting.

Some streets were already being pedestrianised but most had narrow pavements with people restricted to walking along hard against the shop fronts and there was relatively heavy traffic that was dealing with narrow streets and cars parked on either side. There are even photographs that show tram tracks surviving in some of the streets. 

Just how close did the city get to planners sweeping all this away for bright new shopping malls and multi-storey car parks? 

In fact only one pair of photographs - taken looking along Landenmærket and looking towards the Round Tower - show that a complete block of historic, timber-framed buildings here was demolished sometime after 1968.

This is an important exhibition that shows how much more prosperous Copenhagen is now, fifty years on, and how pleasant the main streets are without vehicles but also without the major city-centre redevelopment that afflicted so many historic towns and cities. Developers would argue that conservation stifles prosperity (by which they mean generally profit) and inhibits or restricts giving people the modern services and facilities they ‘want’ but looking at these photographs, that would be a difficult argument to win in Copenhagen.

the exhibition is at Købmagergade 7 and is open every day until 14th June

Fang din by - Capture your city

 

 

From the 11 May for a month until 11 June there is an outdoor exhibition of photographs of the city set up on the quay at the front of the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. 

Part of the Copenhagen Photo Festival, the images were submitted either to an open competition asking photographers to interpret city spaces to show their own relationship to the city or to a separate competition for school students looking at the theme of urban identity. 

Squares, parks, bridges and 'personal sanctuaries' are the subject here rather than buildings and structures.

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Copenhagen photo festival 2017