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Interview with the team of FotoDoks Festival for Contemporary Documentary Photography

FotoDoks Festival for Contemporary Documentary Photography, which will take place in October 2015 in Munich, has recently entered into a collaboration with Organ Vida as part of their research trip to the region of former Yugoslavian countries.

Since one of their research trip locations includes Zagreb, we decided to have a chat with the organization team:  Sophia Greiff, curator and co-organizer of the FotoDoks Festival, founders/photographers Robert Pupeter and Hans Herbig, and photographers Jörg Koopmann and Armin Smailovic

Could you present the FotoDoks festival and the team that stands behind it?
FotoDoks is a young and vibrant festival that has been constantly growing since 2008 and that has established itself as one of Germany’s most important events regarding contemporary documentary photography. Our focus is to examine the scene of documentary photography in other countries, highlight the local situation in auteur photography, promote exchange between photographers from all over the world and discuss future trends. In addition to German speaking positions, a respectively changing partner country or region is invited to each festival and an according festival theme is reflected. The FotoDoks Festival takes place biennially in October in Munich but we are also trying to keep the discussion up between the festivals and organize an international Think Tank, various workshops and talks. FotoDoks was founded by two photographers, Robert Pupeter and Hans Herbig, in a small village near Munich and started in cooperation with the Festival for Documentary Film. After two years FotoDoks became independent and we decided to shift the venue to the city of Munich. Our team now consists of Sophia Greiff, curator and author of photography topics, the founders Hans and Robert, as well as Jörg Koopmann and Armin Smailovic, who are also photographers and have been practicing their personal and commissioned photography for more than 20 years. In addition to that, many photography enthusiasts, partners and volunteers support the festival with their indispensible help and initiative.

001 FotoDoks Team

FotoDoks Team (from left to right: Jörg Koopmann, Sophia Greiff, Milena Carstens / ZEITmagazine, Linn Schröder / winner ZEITmagazine photo prize, Robert Pupeter, Hans Herbig, Armin Smailovic)

What motivated you to start a festival of documentary photography?

The core of the festival is our own passion and fascination with photography, as well as our interest in the various forms that documentary photography can create – ranging from classical photojournalism to a rather artistic approach. We are interested in the fruitful diversity but also in the common grounds of documentary work. And we were also a bit bored by institutions safe-play of “big names” and the established structures in print media. We wanted to create something a little bit more open and flexible: a platform for exchange, a possibility to put things up for discussion. We were longing to see more of those narrative works that require time and an inner attitude of the author photographer; works that treat content with the same importance as form.

What made you decide on the theme Past is Now and why did you choose the countries of former Yugoslavia as a partner region?
The confrontation with the past is inscribed in the history of former Yugoslavia, as well as Germany: 20 years ago the peace agreement of Dayton had ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it thereby marks one of the important historic reference points between the wars in Yugoslavia and the successive independence of its republics. While here borders have been redrawn, in Germany a border has been removed during the unification of the state 25 years ago. These two turning points gave occasion to think about changing territories, neighborhoods and identities and an opportunity to rethink time, remembrance and oblivion in the context of individual stories and collective history. Last year we invited a few photographers and experts from former Yugoslavia to a Think Tank in Munich and discussed these parallels. We came up with the festival theme Past is Now because it refers to the situation of former Yugoslavia and Germany, but is also open enough to include other works that integrate bygone events in new creative processes and reflect on the potential of the yesterday within the present.

FotoDoks Think Tank 2014
FotoDoks ThinkTank (from left to right: Sue Folger, Haris Bilalović, Lene Harbo Pedersen, Jörg Koopmann, Vedrana Madžar)

In which phase is your festival at the moment, what are your next steps for this edition?
Field research is on the agenda right now. We’re about to go on a three-week road trip and visit all seven countries of former Yugoslavia to meet photographers, partner institutions and get to know the photo scene on site. Internet based research and a call for submissions are also important to track down the works for our FotoDoks exhibition, which will be selected by a jury in May. But especially, with a partner region that seems to be underrepresented in Europe’s photography scene, we were curious to find out more and visit the region. After our research trip and the jury selection process, we will start organizing the group exhibition as well as the program for the festival week, which will take place from October 13th to 18th 2015.

002 FotoDoks exhibition

FotoDoks exhibition: “Stranger World”, 2013, Münchner Stadtmuseum

004 FotoDoks artist talk

FotoDoks artist talk: “Stranger World”, 2013, Münchner Stadtmuseum

How is the public in Germany reacting to the festival and its topics every year?
Germany has several good and important, but very different photography festivals. FotoDoks is increasingly recognized as THE festival for documentary photography. The general interest of the public and the number of visitors are increasing and the changing festival themes help to bring different questions up for discussion and attract various audiences and interest groups.

Do you think there is a widespread interest for documentary photography?
There is a huge interest from a small, well-connected crowd, and a small interest from millions of people. Some people get hooked by a topic, some have a general interest in photography, others find art in it – but all together they fill the museum and the festival days in a good way. Unlike in many other fields of art, people from all kind of backgrounds seem to connect quite easily with the works we present, and the mix of perspectives and positions creates an interest in thinking about the theme beyond photography.

What are the most important focus points of the festival for you? (Is it the exhibitions part or round table discussions and such?)
For us it needs both, the quality of a curated show as well as talks and presentations with people working within the field of photography. Different kinds of angles help to get a better picture about what documentary photography could be. In the past we had performances and presentations, an intense lecture without any photos at all, legendary talks by Anders Petersen and others, as well as a 3-hour-long monologue and image flow by Jacob Holdt. We prefer to think in “and” rather than cutting down to “either – or”.

Panel talk 2013
FotoDoks Panel (from left to right: Sara-Lena Maierhofer, Paul Lowe, Helge Skodvin, Bettina Camilla Vestergaard, Christoph Draeger and son)

What are your plans for the future of FotoDoks, do you have any specific goals you would like to attain in the future?
We try to become acknowledged as a “creator’s festival” that is not part of a school or institution; that dares to test new things and remains accessible for different interest groups. Right now we are aiming to become more professional and to stabilize our base – mainly regarding financing and institutional support. At the same time we hope to keep the direct, friendly, uncomplicated, low-hierarchy and charming standard we have. And it would of course be great if people from near and far would consider visiting our festival – especially those from our partner region 2015!


We would like to thank Sophia and the FotoDoks team for the interview and we look forward to having them here!


You can find out more about FotoDoks on their website – www.fotodoks.de