The “Phodar” Biennial is a massive photographer’s project which takes place in Bulgaria. It features a global photo contest judged by an international jury, accompanying exhibitions of Bulgarian and foreign authors and a theoretical seminar.
The “Phodar” foundation is registered in the town of Pleven in 1999 and organises The First international photo studio “Art-document-photo” transformed later in “Phodar” Biennial which involves 187 authors from seven different countries with 1,570 works.
In May 2001 during the second edition of the Biennial, the competition already includes over 260 authors from 17 different countries with 2100 works. The competitive exhibition consists of 190 photographers with 750 works featuring legends in the European photography.
In 2003 the “Phodar” foundation represents the third edition of the international festival. It includes 142 authors from 12 different countries with 1400 photos. The international jury determines that 365 photos by 65 authors from 9 different countries will participate in the exhibition room.
The competition in 2005 involves 177 authors from 21 countries with 1233 photos in three sections. The exhibition comprises 278 photos by 60 authors from 15 countries. The jury turns into international from 2003 and includes art specialists since 2005, while the 2007 “Phodar” Biennial jury consists of 11 members and the competition includes 277 works of 58 artists from 16 countries. At the sixth edition in 2009 the contest receives 786 photographs by 103 authors from 17 countries. The seventh in 2011 - 1247 photographs of 140 authors from 27 countries and the eighth this year’s 2013 contest – 1700 photos of 200 authors from 37 different nations. The exhibition includes 316 photographs by 31 authors from 10 countries.
It is noteworthy that since 2001 (when the festival has its biggest budget) the number of participants and participating works decreases, but the number of countries playing a part - increases. In fact, the core of the authors who have participated at least twice at the exhibition room is not large. This is due to the gradual formation of the salon face oriented towards contemporary visual solutions on the one hand and supporting achievements towards the classical humanist photography on the other. For the past 14 years the "Phodar" Biennial has proved to be one of the most prestigious events in the artistic life of the Balkans and despite the high standards the participation becomes more and more wanted.
Ever since the introduction of the "PHODAR" Biennial in 1999 it differs from regulation by imposing stereotypes of "separating" of the exhibition photography’s genre characteristics - the "art" and "reportage" or purely formal - the "black and white " and "coloured".
The opinion of the organizers is that the leading idea is the art, because it defines the genre, the story, the expression, the form, with a goal - maximizing the implication. This is even more accurate now that there are almost no borders between genres and styles. Obviously, the way of embodiment proves the maturity and talent of the author no less than the originality and depth of the basic idea, but it is not sufficient to make it a priority nowadays when we have such an impressive history of art behind us with all of the "-isms" and diversity of the plastic language, both in traditional and in unconventional forms.
Gradually the authors involved in amateur photo contests retreated from participating at the exhibition room. In their place young people appeared who seem to have learned about the Biennial by getting on the website one way or another.
The fourth edition is united by the slogan "Your World" and in the fifth by "Identities" in three modules - competition, accompanying exhibitions and theoretical seminar. The subject of the sixth edition is "Encounters," the seventh - "Modern Myths", and the eighth - "Glocalization". The thematic framework hampers the authors who are accustomed to the traditional structure of the photo contests and are sending one and the same artworks around the world. This framework provokes motivation to work particularly for this contest. Another "restriction" is the first section of the competition, which includes series - cycle - implantation with a common idea /a sequence of photographs or unique construction related subject matter and as a form of presentation /. This is the most difficult section. The participation in it involves creative and deep thinking, a wide range of skills and the ability to work hard and consistently in one direction. This is a "high standard" for the authors, but the satisfaction from the result is adequate. The main part "The backbone" of the competition is formed of the accepted artworks in the First section.
This year’s second section features collections submitted on paper. The third Section - Photo school - is intended for those who are at the beginning of their career and it aims to promote their integration into the creative photography.
The prize fund contains awards in each of the three sections, the special prize of the Exhibition room - "PHODAR" statue and the Grand Prize.
The second module of the "PHODAR" Biennale - "Accompanying exhibitions" is an original addition to the photo competition, resulting from the contact that the organizers have with the foreign cultural centres, which are operating through personal contacts with artists from Bulgaria and other countries. So far in this module authors are involved from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Russia, France, Iran, Serbia, Germany and Bulgaria.
The third module - "Theoretical seminar" aims to introduce the authors and the visitors of the Biennale to the representatives of theoretical thought from different disciplines interested in the photographic image and to produce a vivid dialogue - analysis of evidence, whether it reflects the trend at the moment, what lapses can be seen in the organization and how can they be amended. There is an opportunity to present the latest technical achievements in the field of photography. Since 2007 a co-organizer of the theoretical seminar is The New Bulgarian University which is sending 5 lecturers and 30 students for the event. Since the sixth edition of the exhibition room there is a fourth module- Portfolio-Review of famous curators and photographers.
So far the forum has involved over 13,000 photographs from more than 1,200 photographers from 47 countries: England, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Vietnam, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Israel , India, Spain, Italy, Canada, China, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, UAE, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, USA, Serbia, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Hungary , The Philippines, France, Croatia, Montenegro, Sweden, Scotland and Japan.
The "PHODAR" Biennial has been presented at the Balkan photographic meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece - 2001; at the international Photo Salon in Oradea, Romania - in 2004; at the international photographic slide show in Adana - Turkey - in 2005; in the BCI in Paris during the International month of photography in 2008. Ever since its foundation, except in Pleven it has been presented as a traveling exhibition at NDK - Sofia - in 1999; Plovdiv – in 2003; 2004 - experimentally at the Central station in Sofia; in March 2006 - at the National Art Gallery and in June 2006 again at the exhibition "Impression" at the Plovdiv Fair; at the House of Humour and Satire - Gabrovo in 2010 and 2011.
On April 26, 2013 the 8-th edition of the “Phodar” Biennale was at the Art Gallery "Iliya Beshkov" – Pleven, the theme of the festival was "Glocalization".