ZRNO festival is an international festival of alternative photography held in Macedonia. Sasho Alushevski from Macedonia is one of the organizers for the Zrno festival, which is now running for a second year this summer and shares no less than his 7 top tips for running a festival.
Photography / Sasho Alushevski / Sašo Aluševski / Сашо Алушевски, Martina Peneva, Viktorija Machkovska
A first question; what does Zrno mean?
Sasho Alushevski: Zrno, in Macedonian means grain ( both, photo grain, which is beautiful in all these noble photo processes, and grain as a seed, a potential to grow which is one aspect of our “mission”)
How did you get the idea of starting the Zrno festival of alternative photographic processes?
This is the second year you are running the festival; what has changed from the first year to this?
Sasho Alushevski: Yes, this is our second edition. The idea was not new, and it fermented in me for years, waiting for the right star constellations. Basically, as I love noble photographic processes, since they give you a chance to play, to touch, they give you the adrenaline rush while expecting the results on the other side, the whole workflow is much slower, so one gets the time to ponder, to be more mindful, attentive. The process is as important (if not even more) than the result. So I think it is only natural at some point for one to feel the urge to share one’s passion with others. I feel Zrno (grain) is my most important project so far, aside from the fact that I have started bigger and fancier ones. In a way, it came out naturally, organic, being in the middle-life years, (and I didn’t escape with a Cuban ballerina) where, I feel, all earlier life experiences, no matter how unrelated they seem, incline to integrate in one’s self in a miraculous manner and tend to thrust to be offered out to the community.
“On the whole, keeping in mind that I come from a professional background of formal and informal education, and the fact that, in Macedonia, practically, up to a certain point, I was the only one practising these alternative photographic processes—all the Zrno team members are students of mine who got infected by the same passion. In a way, it just happened, as a crazy idea or a faraway dream that that longed to be achieved.”
In between we became founding members of the Analog Photography Festival Network, got invited to a few friendly festivals, and we learned we are so small. There are huge, huge analogue photo festivals these days, doing a great job, focusing more on the show, on the presentation of authors, panels and so on. We learned that being small is our specific quality. We focus on sharing skills. We want to keep the small and intimate place that offers a few people the chance to play, bond and grow.
Tell me a little about yourself; what is your personal interest in alternative photographic processes?
Sasho Alushevski: I’m formally trained in psychology and a self-educated photographer. For years, I was trying to convey a certain photographic project, very complex in my mind, and I was trying to find a way to produce it digitally. After a long period, I realized that digital is simply too sterile, and too limiting. Since I never stopped doing 35/120 mm BW films in my (at that point) improvised lab, I started to steer that project into that. Again, I realized it is not the right medium, and at some point, I learned about wet plate collodion. In an instant, I was sure that was the way to do it. It was the time when very few people in the world were actually doing it.
Years passed, and I constructed a few LF cameras myself, until I found my master, Predrag Uzalac, from Novi Sad, Serbia, who passed on to me this noble skill. Gratitude. (make a pause, read that last word again). The project is still on hold, but I got into a very passionate relationship with the wet plate. I had one project on wet plates, and I wanted to make huge format reproductions on BW paper rolls. Since it was out of my budget, I spent a year trying to find a way to do it alternatively, so I experimented with salt prints, albumens, gum and cyanotype printing. In the end, I printed digitally, on canvas, but the experimentation taught me so much.
These days, I still work with the collodion and have a few ongoing projects. A lot of cyanotype (which I hated, because of the blue tone limits, before I discovered my personal toning preferences during the lockdowns). Mordançage is something I need for something new I have in mind. I need the tactile aspect of analogue processes, the organic feel of the mistakes that I find very crucial, and the feeling I get that I might just not be the author of something but more like a channel, a tool for something to come to some materialization. Being lazy, I would not go for some new technique just for the technique itself. It has to have a very specific reason for doing it.
What skills do you need to run a festival?
Sasho Alushevski: First, one needs to have the passion to do it. Tolerance. A conscience that things have their own way of happening. Friendly contacts and sincere attitude towards everything you do. People are more important than deadlines, reports or whatever material matters. Make conditions so people feel comfortable. Both team members and people attending. I have witnessed many expensive and fancy events with little or no concern for the people. I remember only the catering. That says a lot. Much needed and very hard to find in creative people: bureaucratic, administrative and project financial managing skills. Many great initiatives fail here. We are also poor at that point.
Would you recommend to anyone else to start a festival, and what would be your top 3 suggestions for them?
Sasho Alushevski: I prefer 7 ☺
- You start something only, and ONLY, if there is no way to ignore the urge inside you.
- You don’t copy other people’s way of doing it, you do it your way. Simply, you cannot be better than someone else already doing it, and you won’t be happy doing someone else’s dream. Do it your way. If you do it sincerely, people will recognize it. Be authentic. This way, you create a place to grow. Both for you and the people you are addressing.
- Making a festival, even as small as Zrno, is a year-round job, which is why one needs more passion than anything else. If you do it for the money, pick something else.
- A core team is crucial. A core team with people with different skills and attitudes is extremely important. Make conditions so your team can happen. One can make a startup, and people will come for the money; for this, you need an organic team. Some good ideas and some great people will stay behind; some new ones will come, and some will come back later.
- Be prepared to fail. Be sure your initial visions will become impossible to convey at some point and take that as a lesson, an opportunity to grow. See that as a blessing, and build on that.
- Having an honest attitude towards things makes things happen—if the motive is genuine.
- Have in mind that I am almost certainly totally wrong. What works for me, doesn’t work for you. Find your own way.
More info about the Zrno festival: