In the Studio

Bettina Leidl

Vienna, Austria

»Photography is more relevant than ever, as part of our lives and a way of expressing ourselves.«

Bettina, you have been the director of Kunst Haus Wien, which also houses Vienna's Haus der Fotografie, since 2014. With FOTO WIEN having its debut this year you are also the festival’s director. What’s your personal connection to photography?
In addition to the fact that I had been involved in photography in my professional life in the early 90s, photography as an art form and medium is something I am particularly interested in, and I consider it important that such a diverse medium be discussed across its entire spectrum: There are photographers who clearly see themselves as artists and who have their place in the contemporary art context. And then there are those photographers who address the tradition and theory of photography in their work, yet surprisingly have no influencein museums. Through the Internet and social media there is a new approach to and perception of photography, which is why the current interest in and involvement in the medium is very high.

As you say, a new perception of photography is developing, due to a large extent to the fact that anyone with a smartphone may participate in photographic production. How would you answer the voices who challenge the veracity of photography as an art form?
In my view photography is more relevant than ever, it has become a part of our lives and a way of expressing ourselves. Therefore, I consider it extremely important to provide a forum in which we can critically address the subject in all its details, and discuss what photography is able to accomplish beyond the standard routine – such as the increasingly fluid transition to moving images. Interest in photography is extremely high, in talking to colleagues in other institutions we have all observed above average visitor numbers for photographic presentations. 

This year sees the debut of FOTO WIEN, Vienna’s new photography festival, succeeding Eyes On, for which Kunst Haus Wien acts as organizer and host. Why is a new edition of the festival needed? 
The agreed objective with the City of Vienna was to raise the profile for photographic practice that is happening here in Vienna. Festivals offer possibilities that would be restrictive for institutions, such as the great diversity within photography, the high level of education, showing positions that might not be able to be shown in other contexts, to cross-link activities from institutions and other partners from the art sector. For the first time during Vienna’s Month of Photography there now is a festival center at the Österreichische Postsparkasse, Along with many exhibitions including BodyfictionZone UrbainesMonsanto/Bayerand so on, an extensive discursive program will present a forum in which to discuss the current status of photography.

You have decided not to present a curatorial concept or motto for FOTO WIEN. After the closure of the “Call for Projects” and with the progress of the preparations for the festival, have certain ideas or concepts emerged? 
That’s correct, so far there is no contentual topic for the first year. Rather, I wanted to leave room for the ideas and concepts of the program partners. Over 250 project proposals were submitted, 130 of which were selected as program partners. We see certain trends in the partners’ themes, such as urbanity or the role of the artist as a social observer. The entire spectrum of life in the city is represented, especiallyin terms of film and photography. And surprisingly, we find thatthe subject of analog versus digital photography is still a controversial one.

Would you like to tell us a few highlights you are particularly looking forward to?
Of course, it is always difficult to name your favorites as festival director. (laughs) Concrete favorites do not do justice to the versatility of our extensive program. So many phenomenal artists will present their works. FOTO WIEN is a platform for something new in photography. There are up-and-coming artists to discover, but also wonderful photo books, panel discussions around the medium of photography, workshops and photo exhibitions throughout Vienna. Simply grab the program folder or go to our homepage and embark on a photographic journey of discovery through the galleries, museums, studios, and project spaces of the city. 

Looking into the future, how do you see FOTO WIEN evolving?
FOTO WIEN is already an important cultural event, the entire city is involved; photography determines the city for one month. The photo festival is a great opportunity to put a new focus on photography. It aims at promoting the international networking of the local photography scene. We want to be an increasingly curated festival. However, this requires program budgets that allow artists to be invited to develop new photographic works and exhibitions for the festival. Ultimately, FOTO WIEN is a festival that presents the latest trends in photography.

Interview: Florian Langhammer
Photos: Courtesy of FOTO WIEN


#photography, #fotowien

Connect with us
Subscribers are the first to learn about new stories and editions and will receive our weekly Culture Briefing.