Are we able to rethink and change humanity?

This is the provocative and stimulating question that Polish curator Krzysztof Candrowicz considered while building the theme for this year’s Hamburg Triennale of Photography, now in its 7th edition. It is Candrowicz’s second year directing the festival. “Everything we acknowledge so far is the result of previous evolutions and turning points in the history of humankind. Data was archived for centuries to be transmitted to future generations, whose existence is thereby determined by conventions and patterns developed by our ancestors,” Candrowicz remarks. We can’t escape the process of experiencing some concepts as natural or given, but, as Candrowicz suggests, what we can do is to leave our comfort zone and apply critical thinking to our perceived fate, challenging what we inherit. We can unlearn, rethink, and restart.

Breaking Point: Searching for Change, the theme of the 2018 edition, is a metaphor for a much-needed personal and global transformation revealed through frightening statistics: the Earth’s population has grown to 7.5 billion people , and 70 billion animals are bred for meat each year. The planet has lost 80 percent of its forest, and 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year. On top of this, thousands of species of flora and fauna are rapidly becoming extinct.

© Peter Bialobrzeski

At a time when we are constantly “discussing” the need for change instead of directly acting on it in our daily lives, photography helps us freeze the flow, visualize, and focus on the breaking point: that crucial moment in time when you can no longer wait, but must immediately take action and move in a new direction.

For over three months, from June to September 2018, the Hamburg Triennale is hosting exhibitions, portfolio reviews, talks, workshops and masterclasses led by NOOR and the World Press Photo Foundation. The exhibitions forming the backbone of the Festival interpret the overarching theme with titles inspired by the keyboard commands we use everyday: [ENTER], [HOME], [CONTROL], [SPACE], [RETURN], [DELETE] and [ESCAPE]. Candrowicz’s intention, he explains, is to focus on the original powerful meanings behind these words.

The exhibition [ENTER], co-curated by Emma Bowkett (Director of Photography at FT Weekend Magazine) and Candrowickz himself, was a strong start to the festival, presenting the works of 15 artists focusing on breaking points and the necessity for change.

The show featured Matthieu Asselin’s five-year-long research project Monsanto, a Photographic Investigation, addressing the power that multinational corporations exert on human life. Mandy Barker’s impressive images of marine plastic debris in the ocean also take centre stage, and Sarker Protick’s documentation of life and absence on the Padma River in Bangladesh are incorporated. Condensed, powerful edits of these works were housed in the suggestive setting of shipping containers in the courtyard of Deichtorhallen.

Salvatore Vitale’s extraordinary project How to Secure a Country was also included in the show, and is a forensic examination of national security in Switzerland. Martin Errichiello and Filippo Menichetti’s In Fourth Person is an analysis of Italy’s fragmented and forgotten history, and Gabor Arion Kudasz’s majestic work Human was also on view alongside projects by Katrin Koenning, Lucas Foglia and Valentina Abenavoli. Additional projects included Nick Hannes’ mediation on urbanization, migration, and mass tourism; Claudius Schulze’s picturesque landscapes showing the evidence of the human imprint; and Ewa Ciechanowska and Artur Urbański’s work on the vilification of trees.

As a mediation on [CONTROL], the exhibition Control no Control, shown at the Hamburger Kunstahalle and co-curated by Petra Roetting and Stephanie Bunk, consists of photographs, films, and videos that address the sensitive topics of surveillance, the exercise of power through control, and—last but not least—our own lack of control as we increasingly relinquish our personal data. It’s still up for visitors to view until August 26, 2018.

© Nick Hannes

Walking through 10 rooms, the visitor first finds themselves in front of Sophie Calle’s masterpiece La Filature (The Shadow). Moving further into the exhibition, we encounter Peter Piller’s collection of found pictures (compiled especially for this exhibition), as well as Thomas Ruff’s series Nights (1992–96), conceived as a reaction to live news images from the Gulf War, which depicted the nightly bombings in Baghdad.

The exhibition’s key photo series is Thomas Demand’s Presidency, a timely exploration of the iconic American Presidential Oval Office shortly before Barack Obama was elected president. Demand explores the question of whether the Oval Office is still a place of power today—or whether it has devolved into a symbol of loss of control. The series shows us how images help us visualize the ways power is exercised through this control.

The young and talented Swedish photographer Mårten Lange is also part of the show, with his hypnotic series The Mechanism, which was also recently published as a book by MACK. The melancholic series of black-and-white photographs brings together images made in multiple cities, and deals with themes of technology, surveillance and urban society.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chagrin are also on view. Two sets of more than 200 3D-scanned portraits of de-humanized faces, shown together for the first time, one in front of the other, represent their fascinating project Spirit is a Bone. Trevor Paglen’s work is also not to be missed in this context. His video installation Behold those Glorious Times! opens our eyes to how internet images are collected and fed into algorithms that teach computers to recognize objects and faces.

Finally, the exhibition’s last room is particularly moving and intense, housing Richard Mosse’s installation Incoming. The Irish artist followed migrants with a thermal military camera (the same device that border patrol agents use to detect immigrants striving for border protection) as they fled Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The 52 minutes of footage that comprise Incoming, slowed down from the camera’s 60 frames per second to 24 frames per second, is visceral, intimate, shocking and distressingly beautiful.

Developed for the theme of [SPACE], the show Street. Life. Photography. Seven Decades of Street Photography was organized by Sabina Schnakenberg, curator of the F.C. Gundlach Collection at the House of Photography / Deichtorhallen Hamburg and is on view until October 21, 2018.

© Julia Knop

As Schnakenberg made clear from the very beginning, she really didn’t want to just show “beautiful images.” Resisting the temptation to fall back into “just another street photography exhibition,” Schnakenberg succeeds in creating something deeply innovative. She magisterially organized 250 images by 52 photographers into 7 thematic groups: Street Life, Crashes, Public Transfer, Urban Space, Lines and Signs, Anonymity and Alienation. No videos or multimedia are present; it’s just the images speaking for themselves immersed in the perfect quiet and silence of Deichtorhallen (The House of Photography) — a deliberate contrast to the tumultuous noise in the street.

Historic and contemporary materials are shown in parallel to this, inviting us to connect to the visuals and follow the creative development within street photography itself, without getting trapped in didactic chronology. Additionally, great masters such as William Klein, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Martin Parr and Diane Arbus are presented alongside the works of young international artists such as Mohamed Bourouissa, Ahn Jun, Doug Rickard, and Harri Pälviranta.

Peter Funch’s incredible constellations of people in public spaces are also present, depicting individuals who are strangers to each other, all united by one common detail. Siegfried Hansen’s astonishing urban geometries are presented in conversation with Maciej Dakowicz’s documentation of Cardiff’s nights (those moments when the party is almost over but nobody is worrying about tomorrow yet) and Dougie Wallace’s vibrating and colorful portraits of Mumbai. Andreas Herzau, Mirko Martin, Axel Schön, Natan Dvir are also part of this explosive show.

[HOME] is a group exhibition on belonging, safety, migration and nomadism curated by Stefan Rahner & Nico Baumgarten, on view until August 26, 2018. In his introduction, Baumgarten talks about the concept of “home” as an important part of our identity; a feeling of safety we all need, especially during turbulent moments. Simultaneously, he ponders what qualities this type of space should have, inviting us to think about how much useless emphasis is put on “separation.” We all long for a stable home, and in our imagination it is often represented as a unit that is independent, interacting very little with the people around us.

But should we envision something different? This isolation obviously does not benefit our contemporary society because it doesn’t stimulate the acceptance of others and, at the same time, it leads to overconsumption of land and resources. The exhibition, shown mostly in public spaces in collaboration with the Altona Museum, reflects on this process, taking a critical look at the concept of “home.” It questions how we can make it possible for every individual to have one. Works on view in the installations include pieces by Gineke de Rooij, Janete Delaney, Moers Joseph Maher, CP Krenkler, Olaf Sobczak, Rasande Tyskar.

© Miriam Stanke

It’s in this context that Andrea Diefenbach showcases her series Country Without Parents, visualizing the lives of migrant workers from Moldova, one the poorest nations in Europe. Additionally, Jorge Taboada presents High Density, his large-format aerial shots that address the proliferation of large, segregated social housing complexes in Mexico. At Home in Hamburg, a project by K.S. with photographs by G.R., M.C., and S.S. is a visual diary of the homeless people living in the city.

The Altona Museum is hosting a second group show on the theme of [RETURN], curated by Sebastian Lux, Lothar Altringer, Jens Bove and Adelheid Komenda. Through an exclusive preview of a much larger exhibition titled Photography in the Weimar Republic 1918-1933 (which will be displayed in the LVR LandesMuseum Bonn in 2019), the curators investigate themes surrounding heritage, roots and learning from the past.

In [DELETE], curators Esther Ruelfs and Sven Schumacher take on the vast debate surrounding the influence of our media through censorship. “Which images end up being published, and which others remain unseen and are thus deleted from public consciousness?”

Through 4 historical works by Thomas Hoepker, Ryūichi Hirokawa, Günter Hildenhagen, and Hanns-Jörg Anders—supplemented by a contemporary art film by Sirah Foighel Brutmann and Eitan Efrat—the Museum for Kunst and Geverbe explore the conditions under which journalists work, and how their photos are selected for publication. Visitors can take an active part in the show by comparing the published photo spreads of Stern, Playboy, Kristall, and Der Bote für die evangelische Frau with original contact sheets, revealing the process behind why each picture was chosen for publication. Visitors are still able to view the show until it closes on November 25, 2018.

© Roman Bezjak

For [SHIFT], curated by Bettina Steinbrügge & Tobias Peper and displayed at the Kunstverhein, Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff approach the topic of change by arranging portraits of artists, actors, and musicians in several different combinations. Guiding the observer through multiple narratives and expressions, they also question the overused mechanism of self-staging that has taken social media by storm. This inventive and contemporary show is open to visitors until September 9, 2018.

Finally, [ESCAPE] is a display of some of the works resulting from two workshops led by Candrowicz, co-tutor Christian Barbe and curator Virgilio Ferreira. The exhibition includes pieces by Cláudio Reis, Constanze Flamme, Duae Collective (Luna Coppola and Silvia Campidelli), Jayne Dyer, Lisa Hoffmann, Marco Caterini, and Pawel Kowalski. Each artist in this group contributed with a project focused on the future of nature and life itself. There are still a few days to check out the show, which closes on July 15, 2018.

© Kai-Uwe Gundlach

Aside from these main shows at the Triennial, the solo exhibitions by Shirana Shahbazi, Joan Fontcuberta and Anton Corbijn were especially remarkable. Iranian-born, Swiss-based artist Shirana Shahbazi reflects on the relationship between images and their surfaces in her photography. Her work, exposed at Kunsthaus Hamburg and curated by Katja Schroeder, alternates between abstraction and representation, ambitiously playing with geometry, depth and color.

Corbijn’s impressive The Living and the Dead is curated by Franz Wilhelm Kaiser and displayed at the Bucerius Kunst Forum. The exhibition presents 119 analogue photographs by the artist, divided into two sets. The first is primarily devoted to commissioned iconic portraits of bands and musicians, such as Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Tom Waits, U2 and the Rolling Stones. The second component is a selection of commissioned photographs juxtaposed with a freelance series, for which Corbijn dressed up as various musicians and photographed himself in the rural environment of his hometown, Strijen.

Fontcuberta’s exhibition at the Triennial was his first show in Hamburg. Titled Photography: Crisis of History and hosted at the Barlach Halle K, it was curated by Alison Nordström and assisted by Cale Garrido. Photographs by Picasso, Dalí and Miró were featured alongside important commissions of Albert Renger-Patzsch, Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Rodchenko and Walker Evans.

© Philipp Meuser and Enver Hirsch

Overall, this year’s Triennial is an explosion of top-quality visual projects, inviting us to think of photography as one of the most powerful tools for inspiring action and invoking change. The event is definitely worth a visit, and is a compelling collection of innovative and magisterially-curated photography shows, hosted in a delightfully charming city. It’s a must-see for everybody interested in the contemporary art world!