"We're set up for exchange not a one-sided collaboration". A story of Ukraine's lone photography festival
Curator and founder of Odesa Photo Days, Kateryna Radchenko: The Odesa Photo Days Festival has run for five consecutive years in the storied seaport. In 2019, it signed up to be part of a broader project entitled Ukrainian Photo Days. Supported with a grant from Culture Bridges, the larger project ran for nearly a year, featuring exhibitions and and a lecture series held in both Ukraine and abroad and managed by curators from Ukraine, Poland and the UK.
Ukrainian Photo Days 2019 is the result of a collaboration between curators from three countries – Ukraine, Poland and the United Kingdom. It is a series of events designed to explore the development of photography and promote it in Ukraine. Events are structured primarily for professional photographers, but the programme also includes activities for a non-professional audience. The main event during the project is Odesa Photo Days. 26 public events were held during the project with an attendance of 5,000, including 120 registered participants.

"The Ukrainian Photo Days project was really full—it's hard to believe we were able to do it all ourselves. Of course, we didn't come up with it at once; we put the structure together over five years while we were putting on Odesa Photo Days. To make it sustainable, after this year's festival we'll be working to get our Ukrainian photographers involved in events and venues of our foreign partners and guests. We're set up for exchange, not a one-sided collaboration", Kateryna comments.

Kateryna Radchenko
26 public events were held during the project with an attendance of 5,000
According to Kateryna, the Odesa Photo Days International Festival was the most exciting. "It's multi-layered, intensive. During the five festival days we've got meetings, lectures, masterclasses, and portfolio reviews that go from morning to night. Following the festival, the exhibits stay up for about a month. For those five days it takes six months of preparation from our small team—five in all, not counting volunteers and support staff, translators, designers and so on. It takes all our energy but when you see how it all works, when you get the feedback, our batteries are recharged to run events for another year."
Opening ceremony of the Odesa Photo Days 2019
Kateryna was convinced that the establishment of a productive partnership is best assisted by travelling to the country where you want to find partners and by personal relationships, particularly for a specialized event.

"We've been working with artists and curators from Poland for five years already—since we first opened the Odesa Photo Days Festival. The fact that I spent six months in 2014 on a Gaude Polonia scholarship in Warsaw clearly contributed to this initiative. During that time I visited two major photo festivals in Poland – in Krakow, and Lodz as well as became acquainted with a curator from the TIFF Festival in Wroclaw. That was when the idea and the vision for how to put together our own festival came to me. Except for the festival, every year we put on at least one project with our Polish colleagues." – Kateryna explains.

Kateryna lists Warsaw's Gallery Jednostka as one of the crucial contacts. The gallery's curator, Katarzyna Sagatowska jointed the Ukrainian Photo Days team. It was their first collaboration enabling new joint projects

However, 2019 marked the first time that Ukrainian Photo Days had worked with partners from Great Britain. Kateryna made an important trip to Photo London where she met a number of curators, including Max Hauton, who spoke and curated a project at the festival, and Tracy Marshall who will serve on the Odesa Photo Days 2020 exhibition jury.

For three years running the Austrian Cultural Forum has supported artist and curator visits from Austria. This year they brought three guests: Susanne Gamauf, Olena Newkryta, and Sophie Haslinger. Another long-time festival partner of the festival – the Hellenic Foundation for Culture – provided support for a lecture by Greek photographer Stratos Kalafatis.
Over the past five years Ukrainian conceptual photography has become visible again. However, the professional infrastructure in the country has not developed at all.
In all three countries that partnered with the project, photography is developing rapidly and in interesting new ways. Kateryna says that over the past five years Ukrainian conceptual photography has become visible again. However, the professional infrastructure in the country, especially when compared to Poland or the UK, has not developed at all.

"We don't currently have a museum of photography in the country. They're trying to launch a museum of Kharkiv Photography, but it's a private initiative. We've also got nowhere to go to study photography. The lack of educational programmes is probably the most important reason we launched our festival. Our contest for teenagers is the only one of its kind. We try to monitor the work they're doing and encourage them in it. So, in addition to the contest we conduct master classes and lectures for them during the year. Four teens we've worked with have entered European colleges to study photography. We count this as an excellent outcome. Still, we know we're a small festival, and more is needed."
Opening of the main exhibition "StandPoint" at the MASLO Gallery in Khmelnytskyi
2019 and Ukrainian Photo Days also provided the first chance to work with partners from Zaporizhia and Khmelnytsky. The festival's main exhibit would travel to the Zaporizhia Regional Museum of Local Lore and Khmelnytsky's Maslo Gallery.

"I met Mykhailo Mordovsky, director of the Zaporizhia museum when I was giving a lecture on modern photography. We connected like partners right away, and it was clear we both wanted to work with the other. I had a similar situation with the MASLO Gallery in Khmelnytskyi who we had been observing remotely. We had set up another exhibition in Uzhgorod, but unfortunately that gallery was forced to close."

A survey among visitors proved the project team's observations that these outlying cities lack contemporary content, photography in particular. Among potential joint project with the MASLO Gallery in Khmelnytskyi is a photography residency. Mykhailo Mordovsky has unfortunately left the venue in Zaporizhia, so any further cooperation there will depend on whoever takes on the work.
Opening of the "StandPoint" in the Zaporizhia Regional Museum of Local Lore
One traditional part of Odesa Photo Days is evening showings—a laid-back format featuring photo slideshows from around the world set to music. The project team looks for new international partners for this each year. For example, three years ago they learned about a festival in Suwon, South Korea and they wrote to them and proposed that they show their work at the festival. A year later, they returned the favour, inviting a Ukrainian exhibit for a showing in South Korea. From that, Ukrainian photographer Kostyantin Chernichkin was invited to make a presentation in Seoul. According to Radchenko, "this gave us the opportunity to get to know other curators and institutions. Now we're working with four Korean photo festivals."
Evening showing of modern Egyptian and Slovenian photography
The team is particularly motivated for the Future Photo Days for teens because of all the interest it draws from cities and villages across the country. Last year they got 120 applications from 45 cities and villages around Ukraine. The interest the kids show in the competition, the chance to meet and talk with them during the festival has inspired them to develop it further and take it outside Kyiv to other regions. Organizers has an idea to create of a photographic handbook for teens. A lot of factors influence its coming into being, primarily finding the necessary funding.

The project also provided an education to the organizers. They learned how the London Photo Fair and the Wszyscy Jestemy Fotografami are run. Kateryna says that it was important to see how they connected with their audiences, the topics their programmes covered and to make contacts with photographers. About the Wszyscy Jestemy Fotografami, she adds that this festival really motivated them to tackle new topics like "The Future", "Ecology", and "Utopia".
Showing of the finalists of the Future Photo Days 2019 competition
Identifying funding sources was the most difficult part. Particularly, when you're talking about State-based funding, because the State doesn't consider photography to be art. This is the only kind of work that can be taken abroad without out all the usual paperwork.

Kateryna goes on: "There is a special challenge when it comes to grants from international organizations: proving that we're a non-profit, educational platform. 90% of photographic festivals around the world are commercial. However, once we've got our primary sponsor then entering into an agreement with others gets easier. We have some partners who've been with us a long time: the Polish Institute, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Hellenic Foundation for Culture."
The exhibition "Korean Migration — The Long Walk" was opened in the park between Derybasivska and Polska street
Ukrainian State doesn't consider photography to be art. This is the only kind of work that can be taken abroad without out all the usual paperwork.
Odesa Photo Days 2020 is scheduled to run 23-28 April. Kateryna is hopeful that the Coronavirus will not interfere with their plans. Organizers have four exhibits planned. The first is the main annual exhibit of a curated selection of photography. The second will be carried out with the help of the Parallel Platform. Third, there will be an exhibition of Lithuanian photography—a synthesis of the work of contemporary, emerging photographers and traditional Lithuanian photography. And finally, there will be an exhibit organized with the support of PHROOM magazine, dedicated to this year's festival theme "Who Is Next to You?" The evening shows will feature photos from Uruguay thanks to the project team partnering up with the Centre of Photography in Montevideo.

"With last year being so intense, this year we've taken on a bit less. We've decided not to transform into the Biennale format, but have decided to cycle things a bit, with one year having a more ambitious schedule and the next year, less so. We have submitted our grant applications for this year, but we didn't receive any support, so we'll put on the festival with the resources available. We're continuing to work with our partner institutions that help us put the programme together and invite our speakers."

Amid resources, which people interested in the cultural and creative industries should follow Kateryna named Bird in flight and Support your art.
Photos from Odesa Photo Days Festival and gallery MASLO Facebook pages