Selfies, Virals and the City: 2015’s Photography of Liquid Modernity
For those who love photography we would like to remind you of things that, according to the ‘traditionalists’, have not happened. To those who no longer believe in the age of visual culture, we present photography entangled in the network, with all kinds of deviations and fetishes in the background.
The year 2015 confirmed that everyone is a photographer and that the medium itself transforms. Parallel to the emergence of technological novelties, the social media approach to photography is developing. This has been visible not only during festivals, but also in the publishing world and in other events that may not have garnered as much publicity. Culture.pl takes a look at what happened in Polish photography during the last 12 months, even though many may think not a lot happened.
Online and new
For Polish photographers, 2015 was a uniquely good year. What is easily noticeable is that publishing photos online is a form of art on its own, and the websites of photographers, projects and collectives can be true masterpieces. Not only are they works of art in terms of their technological choices – what draws attention is predominantly the intelligent and unexpected weaving of the traditional form with a digital medium.
One of the online hits turned out to be Zofia Rydet’s Sociological Record. Noticed abroad, the project sparked publications in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. Rydet’s photographs, taken between 1978 and 1997, are accessible open-source on the website www.zofiarydet.com, courtesy of Zofia Augustyńska-Martyniak who inherited the intellectual property rights.
Another noteworthy project is Albom.pl, which combines that what exists with that which no longer does. This minimalist website, presenting unique stories hailing from the Polish-Belarusian border, is the result of prolonged field work by ethnographers and anthropologists.
The most hypnotising picture of the year turned out to be A Man Feeding Swans in the Snow by Kraków-based photographer Marcin Ryczek. The photo, taken in 2013, is only increasing in fame, and in 2015 it received several prestigious awards as well as millions of shares on social media. The photo (or better yet ‘the icon’) won New York Photo Festival’s Last Picture Show award in the single image category of Fine Art.
Another online sensation was also the selfie by Klaudia Cechini, whose photo was published in Tom Ang’s Photography: The Definitive Visual History anthology, among the works of Muybridge and Cartier-Bresson. Cechini, who takes and edits all her photos on an iPhone, is featured in a chapter on new trends in photography and dubbed the precursor of the selfie form of personal photography. Poland heard about her in 2015, thanks to Ang’s publication, the world – thanks to her exhibition in Los Angeles. And it’s all shot with a mobile!
Combining history with the possibilities offered by the online world is the goal of the tireless Archeology of Photography Foundation, which every year adds new photos of the great and the (un)forgotten to its collection.
My city, my space
The fact that the documentary is one of the most attractive Polish export goods, is pretty well known. 2015 saw publications of a fresh batch of good books. Among all the documentary activities of the last year, one that seems particularly worthy of attention is the new trend of looking at the city. Right before our eyes, the ‘city-machine’ that focused on production transformed into the ‘city-home’, designed as a space for not only working and sleeping, but also living, feeling and playing, one where you can have a social life and freely use public space. Polish documentary artists tried to register all that, at times criticising and celebrating the new changes.
The Sputnik Photos collective published a perfectly edited album yet again. Jan Brykczyński’s The Gardener reveals the ways in which nature tries to arise in the city and how the city allows it (or not) to interfere in its tissue. Some of the photos may be funny, but the album sparks a reflection on urban planning and city folklore as well as questions about nature’s place in the contemporary world.
Thanks to the painstaking work of Danuta Jackiewicz and the History Meeting House, as well as the 60th anniversary of the Palace of Culture and Science’s construction, discourses on love came back into the debates about the Polish capital.
It was the previously-mentioned Danuta Jackiewicz who brought back the first photographers of Warsaw in the trilogy Warsaw's First Photographers. Beyer, Brandel and Fajans immortalised the Polish capital with piety. The fact that back then the camera weighed as much as a five-year old did not stop their creativity. Taking a closer look at Brandel is particularly recommended, as he was the first to take a large-format camera obscura up to the sky in a hot air balloon to photograph his beloved city from a bird’s-eye view. The photographs chosen by Jackiewicz do not merely tell the visual history of the Polish capital, they also charm with their wit, grotesque and affection in their portrayal of the complexities of everyday life from almost two centuries ago.
Another example of an extraordinary approach to photography are two great, albeit very different, albums about the Palace of Culture and Science. The first, Pałac w Warszawie (editor’s translation: Palace in Warsaw), with photos by Błażej Pindor, can be read as an elegant love letter. It is a 19th-century kind of love, one which requires that the object of adoration be addressed with the utmost respect and adoration. Pindor’s minimalist photographs, styled to resemble the 1950s, ideally mirror the atmosphere using high-contrast black and white film.
Another two-fold tale was told by Maciek Jeziorek Wagabunda, who during the last couple of years spent more time in India than in Poland. When he finally came back, it was to change our perception of the homeland of Mother Theresa, Gandhi and curry. His first album, Through the Glass, is an educational parable about leprosy and about the ways in which the West still marginalises the East. It is India as if frozen in time, not aging. The result is a work outside the usual scope of travel photography: a professional, carefully edited album-tale, in which, quite paradoxically, black-and-white traditional photographs are in the background of the story.
317 Days to Mars is one of those indescribable photo albums. A cheeky Rubik’s Cube full of editorial nuances and references. Although at first glance it seems to be a chaotic jumble of landscapes and details from New Delhi, it turns out to be a sophisticated game with the reader. 317 Days to Mars is a journey to another planet, a planet made of tangled cables, street vendors, confused people – in summation: visual and semantic noise. Jeziorek departs from the classical portrayal of India, the one representative for Steve McCurry as well as for his own previous albums. 317 Days to Mars is revelation and puzzle in one.
City clamor attracted not only Jeziorek, but also other artists. Krzysztof Racoń in his project Rura (The Pipe) portrays the small town of Strzemieszyce Małe, the location of an overground conveyor belt supplying the nearby Katowice Steelworks with iron ore.
Michał Dąbrowski writes about the album:
Racoń’s black and white photographs, often blurry, overexposed at the edges, damaged and imperfect, speak about the people, the space, their affection towards it and to one another.
Racoń documents the industry’s interference with urban space, and the indifference and apathy which come as a result.. Everything is grey, sad and wrong. Similar adjectives come up in Miasto Archipelag (Archipelago City), a project started by Filip Springer in the fall of 2015. It is a reporter’s record of journeys to the previous capital cities of Polish provinces. Photos of the ‘real’ Poland are regularly published on the website www.miastoarchipelag.pl and on social media. Quite alarmingly, most of the urban spaces pictured in the story are rather creepy and leave you shivering. Is this the ‘real’ Poland? The project continues…
Among all the 2015 debuts in Polish photography that were especially interesting are those that shined like real supernovas and who will be visible in the coming year. Alphabetically:
Michał Adamski keeps his main focus on sincerity. His album Can't Get Through the Chaos is a personal diary, in which he says farewell to his parents. The book, small in size and volume, takes on the enormity of suffering. Adamski works through that subtly, but with conviction. Without pathos, but also without piety.
Katarzyna Mazur’s project Anna Konda was a hit during the Paris Photo festival. In France, the photographer presented a black and white reportage on female martial arts, a series invoking associations with Fight Club. The pictures come from East Berlin, where amateurs and professional players of ju-jitsu meet to fight. In her project, Mazur juxtaposes the social expectations of women with the reality she encounters in underground Berlin venues.
Wiktoria Wojciechowska is not afraid of difficult topics. Her series Iskry (Sparks), composed of portraits of soldiers who took part in the Russian-Ukrainian war, is an incredibly honest and unpretentious picture of trauma. Her new project Short Flashes portrays cyclists and motorcyclists clad in colourful cloaks, travelling across Chinese cities. The somewhat grotesque photos draw attention to the ease with which a man may merge with the human mass. The first project was awarded the Griffin Art Space Award, while for the second one the artist received the prestigious Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award.
Elsewhere in 2015, there were also photographic festivals, grand anthologies and Polish photography in National Geographic. But you'll have to look elsewhere to read about those – all the above should already have given you plenty to chew over from a fruitful past year!
Written by DS, translated by OK, 6 Jan 2016