6 Must-Know 21st Century Polish Documentary Photographers
The following Polish photographers distinguish themselves from the field with their breath-taking documentation of life in the 21st century.
As a photographer, Rafał Milach strives to capture realities of everyday life in Russia and other former Soviet republics as authentically as possible. His first-person narration style is straightforward, without significant interference into the subject or setting.
Milach was part of the group that created the photo collective Sputnik Photos to document, promote and spread knowledge on transition issues in CEE countries. His upbringing in Poland under communist regime sparked a fascination with political and social change which, as he said in an interview with modernphoto.eu, shaped his ‘view of the world as a photographer. Never mind if it’s the descending Silesia or young Russians living in post-soviet Russia.’ His best-known project is the 7 Rooms series, which paints a collective portrait of thirty-somethings in Putin's Russia.
Justyna Mielnikiewicz uses a classic, black and white format and a humanistic style of photojournalism. The main focus of her first projects was the Southern Caucasus, though she is also drawn to the communities of other former states of the Soviet Union (Moldova, Russia) as well as the Near East (Turkey, Iran).
Since 2006, she has been an active member of the Sputnik Photos collective. In 2009, she was awarded second prize in the World Press Photo competition for her photographs documenting the war in Southern Ossetia (2008). In the same year, she won the Canon Female Photojournalist Prize. Since 2009, she has been working on a photographic series dedicated to the life of women in the countries of the former Soviet Union, titled What Would People Say? Alongside that project, she has also been working on A Ukraine Runs Through It, an extended cycle about contemporary Ukraine.
Wiktoria Wojciechowska is an award-winning photographer and video artist. Her works seek to shed light on feelings hidden within her subjects without directly addressing them. Two of her earlier projects stemmed from a longing to belong and are taken from the point of view of an outsider looking in. These are Own Place, a series of portraits of people inside a house that are taken from the outside, through a window, and Short Flashes, a series of Chinese cyclists riding in the rain covered in colourful plastic sheets. Short Flashes won Wojciechowska the Leica Newcomer Award competition in 2015.
Wojciechowska’s more recent project, Sparks, revolves around civilians who took part in the Euromaidan, fought on the Russian front, or battled the pro-Russian separatists in eastern and southern Ukraine. As Marta Królak, curator of the exhibition, describes:
Reflection in the work of Wiktoria Wojciechowska doesn’t only concern the fragility of human life and body. The author also raises questions about the timeliness of the figure a soldier, a man, an adult.
Filip Ćwik is a highly-decorated press photographer. He has collaborated closely with Newsweek. He had previously worked for the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. He created and headed the photography section for the daily Polska The Times. Recently, though, he has moved away from standard press photography towards documentary images. Since 2008, he is the founder and a member of the Napo Images photographic agency.
Any list of Ćwik’s most exceptional efforts should certainly include his expressive black and white photo report showing the nation mourning after the Polish government plane crash in Smoleńsk in 2010, for which he received an award in the 2011 World Press Photo competition. His photographs, concentrating on the faces of the people gathered outside the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street in Warsaw, stand out sharply amongst the sentimentality, tears and pathos seen in the majority of pictures taken and published at that time.
Michał Łuczak is a documentarian who concentrates on intimate stories and their immediate surroundings. His projects include collections documenting the life of a novitiate in the Discalced Carmelites convent in Czerna, community activities in his family’s hometown, the history of the Ukrainian ‘White House’, and the last months of the brutalist train station in Katowice.
In 2010, Łuczak joined the documentary photographers collective Sputnik Photos. Their first project was IS(NOT). Together with the Icelandic writer Hermann Stefanson he told the story of the melancholy and isolation of the island. In 2012, Sputnik Photos came to Warsaw to photograph the Vistula river. For his part in the project, Łuczak went in search for a hidden world near the river.
Adam Lach is a photographer and an author of short films. He creates works that concern social problems and socially excluded persons. He is a co-founder and member of the Napo Images agency, which supports long-term documentary photography projects.
Lach is a long-term collaborator of Newsweek Polska. He also published his works in foreign magazines, amongst others in The New York Times and Le Monde. Some of his most well-known projects include Apology of the Presence, which features photographs taken at a centre for the intellectually handicapped, The Bermuda Triangle, a portrait of children living in one of the poorest districts of Lower Silesia, and Stigma, the story of a large Roma family living in an encampment in Wrocław. Additionally, Lach creates so-called photocasts – short documentary works in which photography plays an important role.