2016: A Vintage Year for Photo Books from Poland
In the modern era of digitalisation one may think that the fate of traditional books has already been sealed, but in photography the situation looks completely different. Thanks to new means of financing artistic projects, such as crowd funding, an increasing number of artists finish their projects with book publications. Albums and photo books accompany exhibitions as a complementary medium. Publishers like to reach for the works of the classics of the photography to show them again in a new way. The year 2016 was a good one for photo books in Poland. Albums, photo books, and small fanzines published by Polish artists earned appreciation at home and abroad. Culture.pl presents the best of them.
Random Selection by Magda Buczek
For those who are not enchanted with analogue technologies, the book Random Selection by Magda Buczek will be a perfect gift. In the publication, the artist plays with bringing digital technologies onto classic paper. In the review by Agnieszka Warnke for Culture.pl we read that:
The main narration is created by pictures in a configuration which is not – as one could think – the work of improvisation, but the result of using an algorithm taken from the computer’s screen to paper.
Buczek’s book is a visual game with style which can be a real pleasure for trained eyes. Among the images in the publication are also words: quotations from literature, conversations heard on the street, elements of private correspondence.
Near the Place/Primer by Krzysztof Siwczyk and Michał Łuczak
Near the Place/Primer is a meeting between a poet and a documentalist in book form. Krzysztof Siwczyk, who played the main role in the film Wojaczek, and Michał Łuczak, known for his love of brutalist architecture, created a book together and it’s impossible to easily fit it into any single category. It’s not poetry, because instead of poems we find essays. It isn’t a documentary album either, because the meanings of the presented pictures change with the words. Michał Dąbrowski, in his review for Culture.pl, summed up:
Primer is not a course book: a path that you should go along or a set of steps to be completed. Łuczak lets himself mistake the lack of concrete. In return he offers a strange chaos, full of crossing paths and unmade decisions. It is an untold longing for childhood.
ROLKE by Tadeusz Rolke
Tadeusz Rolke is an icon in the world of Polish photography. ‘After six decades of working, the author wants to confess to us’, says Anda Rottenberg in the introduction. There are hundreds of pictures in the publication. However, this collections differs strongly from other retrospective albums of Rolke. On the pages, the photographer is seen as seeker of experience, a subtle voyeur, possibly because the subjects of most of the photos in the album are women. The album ROLKE is not only a special gift for connoisseurs of the beauty of the body but also a wonderful lesson in Polish photography.
Fresh From Poland Zine #1: Distortion
Distortion is the first fanzine published by Fresh From Poland. The photographs by young artists that are part of the publication are connected by the eponymous subject of distortion. Only one hundred copies of this small notebook were published. However, what it contains makes it worth getting hold of one. The photos in the fanzine are not commented on by text. The images frivolously talk to each other, connect and fall apart in their meanings as well as aesthetically. As Michał Dąbrowski commented on the publication for Culture.pl, ‘the authors don’t have to simplify their language, adapt to a wide audience, because they speak mostly to those who are similar and understand the suggested language.’ Distortion is truly unique, and although small in size may become a photographic rara avis in the future.
Wojciech Zamecznik: Photo-graphics
Although the album Wojciech Zamecznik: Photo-graphics was published as a supplement to the exhibition in the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw, its form and content deserve to be called a work of art. Considered in the smallest details, it is a complete work about Zamecznik and his output. The publication was divided into parts – each of them corresponding with one subject from the life of the artist. In addition, it is summed up by a detailed calendar of Zamecznik’s life. Special attention is deserved by an interview with the younger son of the artist, Juliusz, recalling his father as a workaholic but a family man at once. All these elements in the book create a unique compendium of knowledge about Wojciech Zamecznik.
Neorealism in Polish Photography 1950-1970 by Rafał Lewandowski
Neorealism is an artistic movement which arose in the last years of the war as a protest against fascism, and after the war touched upon the subject of social problems. It opposed traditional dramaturgic models. Meaning was not visible in the moments of action, but in their accumulation: as an effect of summing up all the events, generalisations, instant observations. The images featured in the book were produced from 1950 to 1970 and are connected by an open look at reality and a kind of aesthetic and ethical approach. The tragedy of a historical moment is juxtaposed here with scenes from the streets, formal games with the image, or the smile of a child. It’s an album that can’t be read without historical competence and trained eyes able to catch the nuances of the picture.
Disappearing Craft in Kaszuby/ Ginące rzemiosło na Kaszubach
After the success of the book Karczeby by Adam Pańczuk, it seemed that such a good album about the everyday life of those who live in contrast to modernity would never come into existence again. However, the Kaszuby-Pomerania Association (Zrzeszenie Kaszubsko-Pomorskie) contradicted this thesis. In the album Disappearing Craft in Kaszuby there are almost 40 photos of craftsmen from the region: potters, embroiderers, carpenters, saddlers. The publication is supplemented by pictures taken on the grounds of an antique museum village in Kaszuby. The authors aimed to find people who still live in Kaszuby in accordance to the rules of times gone by. In the black and white photographs, craftsmen fight with matter just like their ancestors did in the past. The book is beautiful proof that the world is not the same everywhere.
Clear of People by Michał Iwanowski
The idea for the book came during an artistic residency in Kaunus, Lithuania, in 2012. Iwanowski, inspired by the journals of his grandfather’s brother, decided to start a strange journey. He wanted to recreate the route his grandfather and uncle – both artists – took from the Soviet Gulag to Poland. Iwanowski, guided by a map drawn 70 years ago and the memories of his ancestors, went by foot along the same route through the land of present-day Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Poland, altogether over two thousand kilometres. He tried to keep as far from civilisation as he could. His only company was his camera. The book was published thanks to the support of many people during crowd-funding attempts. The album Clear of People is a nostalgic reflection on the world.
Labour by Krzysztof Solarewicz
It’s hard to find another book as intimate and enigmatic as Labour by Solarewicz. ‘It’s a book about me. It’s an unfinished story composed from pictures. A portrayal repeated 32 times’, as the artist himself describes his publication. The starting point for the album’s creation was the wait for the titular event, although the artist didn’t wait in the traditional way. The photographs that became part of the album slightly touch upon the subject of being a parent. Michał Dąbrowski reviews the book for Culture.pl:
The question arises – where is the new, the baby? Its presence is sensed between the photos, in the composition of the pictures, in this specific syntax. There is a lot of space for reflection, sometimes irony, a perceptiveness test for viewers.
Sources: own materials, Culture.pl, originally written in Polish by DS, 22nd Dec 2016, translated by BR, 11th Jan 2017