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Galerija Fotografija, Slovenia. Photoshop is a dry and virtual dark room

20 February, 2021. Barbara Čeferin held the camera for the first time at the age of seven. She began with shooting subjects around her in primary school, with the camera that she had borrowed from her father. «It was a two-point camera but with a Carl Zeiss lens», says Čeferin. Over the years she kept experimenting and entered the world of pixels as a self-taught photographer. «Back in the day, when we would photograph on films. The film boxes came with an instruction manual on apertures to use for weather, that was my first photography lesson», adds Čeferin.

In the Eighties while pursuing her graduation, she started to work with Mladina, a Slovenian magazine which remained a catalyst for social and political changes at that time. Later she went on to do a six-year stint as the photo-editor of Jana magazine based out of Ljubljana, focused on family issues and lifestyle. In the year of 2003, she quit her job as a photo-editor with the desire to focus on freelance photography. But destiny had something else in store for her. There was a shift as her attention moved from being a photographer to a curator. She envisioned the opening of the first private art gallery for photography in her homeland Slovenia.

The aim of Čeferin

Barbara Čeferin established Galerija Fotografija in the Old Town of Ljubljana, in the autumn of 2003. Coming from a background of documentary and reportage photography, she had no experience in curation or running a gallery. «I wanted to show art made with the photography medium» says Čeferin.

The doors of the venue opened to the public, with their first exhibition within a year of the gallery being run. Visitors could admire a collection of forty-seven Slovenian photographers from the past and present. «The motivation behind the founding of Galerija Fotografija was to make fine-art photography known to the Slovenian public. In recent years, we have broadened our scope and included other genres».

The gallery represents emerging and established Slovene and international-artists. The art gallery is located on Levstik square, in the capital city. Spread across eighty-square-meters, it has an additional forty-square-meters occupied by the bookstore. The streets of the neighborhood remain busy with locals, tourists, and young-professionals. «In Ljubljana, within the radius of 800 meters you can find national-art galleries, restaurants, shops and hotels. In normal times we have cultural events and festivals taking place in the Old Town», adds Čeferin.

The exhibition space

The exhibition space in the gallery has a monochrome scheme to maintain neutrality. It changes from white to black depending on the artist’s needs. The display of photographs across the corridors from the library to the gallery marks the beginning of the artist’s narrative. Bulbs and spotlights hanging over the furniture characterize the gallery interiors, in tandem with the grayscale. The walls of the bookstore are white-washed. Designed like a living room, the bookstore features a wooden community table. It cultivates an atmosphere of conviviality and togetherness.

The social space experience at the bookstore encourages patrons to get comfortable and spend time reading. Barbara’s friend and Slovenian architect Irena Brecelj is behind the venue design. «I gave the design brief to her and she produced what I had envisioned for the space», added Čeferin.

The gallery represents emerging and established Slovene and international-artists

«I started the bookshop because I saw a possibility that people would be curious to learn»

What started as a corner in the gallery with a stack of books, soon became a full-fledged bookstore vision. In the seventeen years of being in business, Galerija Fotografija has moved four homes. «I love books. Over the years I have continued to curate books. Moving from one space to another, I was in search of a venue to have the gallery and the bookshop with equal focus», says Čeferin.

The location accommodates the gallery and a bookstore section which presents itself once you enter the space. The bookstore is a destination for art photography proteges and aficionados, enabling artists to broaden their horizon through literature that inspires. «I started the bookshop because I saw a possibility that people would be curious to learn about photography and art from the books. I hoped that with that knowledge, they would be able to appreciate what they will see on the gallery walls. Books are affordable versus art works. This way, people can start with books and progress to prints», says Čeferin.

The relationship with artists

Galerija Fotografija boasts of a series of photographic-art curated with attention to detail and quality. Čeferin selects and evaluates all the art proposals before giving them space in her seventeen-year-old gallery. They have an inventory of thirty-eight artists out of which works of four remain available. Some of the Slovene and international names on their roster include: Roger Ballen, Stephan Lupino, Paul Ickovic, Janez Bogataj, Manca Juvan, Ciril Jazbec, Andrej Lamut, Diana Lui, Nataša Segulin, Marc Riboud, Matej Andraž Vogrinčič, and Angelika Sher.

Over the years, photographers that Čeferin has worked with have left a mark on her. One of them is the seventy-year-old American veteran-artist Roger Ballen. «My first contact with Roger’s work was Boarding House in 2009. The published books came from the printer in China after its world premiere. His works have a complex representation of the subjects. His art attracts and repels you, his work uses installations and photographs. In the series ‘The Theatre of Apparitions’, he was inspired by the drawings he saw on the window of a women’s prison. He tried to recreate that in his studio and took photos of the drawings. The image captured doesn’t exist any other way making it a case in point for fine-art photography», says Čeferin.

The role of artists in the gallery communication

The last exhibition the gallery hosted showcased ‘Shepherds and the Slaughterhouse’ by Simon Chang, photographed in Kurdistan, Iraq. ‘Back to Eden’, a collaborative project by Manca Juvan and Bojan Brecelj is in line. The exhibit with two-color images and a poem by Manca Juvan, stimulated from the Covid-19 pandemic, urges us to rethink our position on the planet. «I do not appreciate it when asked about the size of the gallery. The idea and its communication is what is of importance, not the number of photographs on display», says Čeferin. Their artist Tanja Lažetić was chosen for the Elles x Paris photo, organized by the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs, focusing on women photographers.

The gallery publishes books featuring the works of their artists. It organizes lectures, round tables, and project presentations with the spotlight on the artist in feature. «In the beginning of March, we are planning to publish a book by Tanja covering her project about flowers. We will organize a presentation about this at the bookshop, creating a full circle, helping us publicize the works of our artists», adds Čeferin.

The participation to fairs and events

The gallery entered the international-art market in 2009, «Having been based in Ljubljana, where the art market does not have scope for photography-art, we had to start with international art fairs. The first one was Viennafair being the closest. We then moved on to Paris Photo where we participated twice until the pandemic. We participated in Photo Basel for the fifth time this year», added Čeferin.

Raising awareness of the importance of quality photography in Slovenia through collaborations and fairs, she decided to present Galerija Fotografija at the Slovenian Book Fair: «It seemed to me that this way we could expand the circle of our visitors and bring photo books closer to the public. We worked as one of the exhibitors for three years, and then I proposed to the board of the Slovenian Book Fair that we set up a section for books on photography, the Fotocona», says Čeferin.

Between arts and books

In 2019, Galerija Fotografija published a book marking the 35th anniversary of the Slovenia Book Fair. The book presents the project ‘Selfish’, which the Slovenian photographer Bojan Brecelj started in 2011. It is a selfie project that was born before the advent of smartphones. In the last edition, Bojan Brecelj presented himself at the book fair with a modified ‘Selfish’ art project. Visitors of the fair self-portrayed themselves with the inscription of their imaginary book expressing their views on the world in which we live.

The book is printed in Slovene and English, for every individual interested in the zeitgeist of the society. Designed by Žare Kerin, the book’s introductory texts were contributed by Martin Žnideršič, Zdravko Kafol, Rudi Zaman and Bojan Brecelj. The gallery’s endeavor to showcase sustainability through the photography medium is depicted in the artist’s works. They have an eye to exhibit photographers whose narrative suggests solutions for the environmental crisis we live in.

In December, the gallery organized the print sale of Matjaž Krivic’s ‘Plan B’ for which he collaborated with Slovenian journalist, Boštjan Videmšek. They travelled around the world for two years following stories of sustainable-living and climate change mitigation. The exhibition showed a series of fifty selected images. «Our gallery patrons showed interest. The collections from the sale helped Matjaž to continue his works on such projects», said Čeferin.

The topic of inclusivity

The gallery makes it a point to follow and shed light on topics relating to inclusivity. In 2017, they featured The Hḗrōs a project created by Matjaž Tančič as a reaction to the rise of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. In the past year’s photography students have been exploring and experimenting with techniques. Cyanotype and other forgotten techniques have had a rebirth and are being used for artistic expressions.

Veteran-artists like Boris Gaberščik, use analog and develop their photos in the dark room, while Matjaž Krivic photographed his series on film, the photos of which were then scanned and digitized. «If there are material and chemicals there will be analog photography, but there is nothing wrong with digital. You cannot give analog precedence because photoshop is a dry and virtual dark room. You will have to know the tools and how to use them in each scenario. To use photoshop, knowing the principles of photography is a must».

The art fairs they were accepted at for 2020, such as Photo Basel and Paris Photo, were cancelled. They managed to be in Photo Basel Berlin in September but the circumstances were hindered. «It was a task to be there for ten hours with a mask. People were not able to enter the fair and remained in cue for hours. We did manage to experience interest in photography art and in photographs. Art is food for our souls», adds Čeferin. The Hailstorm Anatomy by Lorenzo Vitturi, a book by an Italian photographer and sculpture artist, has been instrumental in influencing Čeferin’s journey as a creative professional.

IMAGE GALLERY

Galerija Fotografija
Levstikov trg 7
Ljubljana
Slovenia

Chetna Chopra

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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Hemp production in Italy
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