Konrad Pustoła was a photographer. He was born in 1976 in Warsaw and died on 14th October, 2015.
Kognrad Pustoła was a very successful contemporary photographer whose photography has been presented at numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad. He won the first prize of the Polish Press Photography Competition in 2001 in the category of "The World We Live In" for his series Sanna / Sleigh Ride.
Pustoła graduated from the Department of Economics at the University of Warsaw. His interest in photography can be traced back to a year of high school spent in the United States in 1993. Between 1997 and 1998, he participated in photography workshops hosted by Juliusz Sokołowski at the Institute of Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw. In 2004, Pustoła graduated from the Cinematography and Television Realisation Department at the Film School in Łódź, and in 2008 from the Photography Department of the Royal College of Art in London. Between 2000 and 2002, Pustoła belonged to an editorial team responsible for the photography section of the internet portal Latarnik (www.latarnik.pl). He was a co-founder of the poniekąd Photographers Association as well as a co-organizer and participant of the exhibition Powiększenie – Fotografia w czasach zgiełku /Blow-up. He also organized Photography in the Times of Turmoil, an exhibition of the Latarnik Coalition works hosted by the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
Pustoła’s first projects such as Ale Meksyk! / Mexico! and Sanna / Sleigh Ride or Siena show the photographer’s interest in places, cities and the countryside in both Poland and abroad. He displays a sense of sociological engagement and sensitivity to the atmosphere of places by focusing on architecture and urban spaces rather than the people who move and live among them. The first projects indicate another important feature of Konrad Pustoła’s photography, namely the tendency to experiment with various photographic techniques. Among his works, one can find photographs taken with a mobile phone camera (Wieczór kawalerski / Groom’s Shower), those taken by a classic large-format Graflex (Ale Meksyk! / Mexico!), nostalgic copies in sepia colours (Siena) and finally photographs taken by camera obscura (Warszawa / Warsaw). These technical experiments, which give a slightly eclectic picture of the artist’s work, play an important role in the photographer’s process of creation. For each new project Pustoła searched for a new form of photographic recording to capture the surrounding phenomena.
In 2004, Konrad Pustoła made a series of photographs entitled Warsaw using a Japanese wooden box camera. In spite of the technical limitations of the camera obscura that produces low-contrast photographs, the artist managed to take advantage of its potential and achieved an extraordinary visual effect. On the one hand the overexposure of the film produced an effect of interesting tonality and quite high contrast, while on the other the long exposure time and slow film speed eliminated any objects caught in motion. The frames of these photographs are carefully planned, static, balanced, and often symmetrical in composition. The technical qualities, composition of images and the manner of depicting architecture bring these images of contemporary Warsaw closer to the photographs taken in the first years of the technology boom. The places he photographed take on melancholic dimension and an atmosphere of drowsiness and emptiness. These consciously chosen motifs display a lack of sentimental feelings or nostalgia. The author does not look for the picturesque and uncommon. Instead of unusual places and "original" frames, he depicts what is banal or inconsistent in the surrounding architecture. As the author admits himself, "Contemporary cities remind me of a meticulous mosaic composed of an unlimited number of patterns, colours and textures. They are made of multiple layers of centuries-old common and individual stories…" The photographs, however, seem to exist outside of time and space.
In 2005, Konrad Pustoła completed a project entitled Autor / The Author at the Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle. He exhibited three photographs that were almost identical: they depicted an elegant man wearing a tailcoat, standing with his back to the camera in the pose of a conductor, facing the waves on the sea. Behind him, the audience sits on chairs set in a row along the seashore. The photographs depict one event: the famous Panoramic Seaside Happening by Tadeusz Kantor, with Edward Krasiński as the conductor and the Polish artistic elite as the audience photographed by Eustachy Kossakowski. Although the three photographs were printed from one negative, they differ slightly. They were also presented differently when they were reproduced in 2005 in three different publications: Andy Rottenberg’s book Sztuka w Polsce 1945-2005 / Art in Poland 1945-2005, a calendar published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on a poster bought by the photographer at the Warsaw Zachęta Gallery. Presenting three copies of the famous photograph, Pustoła subversively poses the question of authorship.
Who is the author of the exhibited work: is it Tadeusz Kantor the author of the Seaside Happening concept, Edward Krasiński the conductor of waves, or maybe Eustachy Kossakowski the originator of the photograph that has shaped our understanding of the idea of a happening? Finally, Pustoła himself joins the circle of "the authors". By making the photograph the subject for his work on, paradoxically, conventions of attribution, Pustoła entered not only into the circle of authors but also into a complex network of relations between images. As Adam Mazur wrote:
'The Author is a conceptual work which could be entitled ‘One and Three Photographs’ a travesty of the acclaimed work by Joseph Kossuth (‘One and Three Chairs’ of 1968). All of them are identical and yet each of them is different. The photographs, however, make one frame: a multiplied and panoramic landscape authored by Konrad Pustoła.
With the installation of S(t)ymulacje / S(t)imulation exhibited as part of the Photomonth in Krakow, at the Otwarta Pracownia (2006), a new theme was introduced into his work. The artist exhibited images captured by the private cameras of visitors to on-line erotic chat rooms. He made the photographs part of an installation constructed as a dark labyrinth that evoked an atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety. Wandering through the gloomy labyrinth, which at times brings to mind the claustrophobic and sleazy booths of cheap sex-shops, the viewer becomes a witness to scenes taking place in a space that cannot be unambiguously defined as private or public. The viewer sees thousands of people having sex or masturbating at home in front of cameras and computer screens, taking pleasure in peeping or exposing themselves to the gaze of others. The question of gaze and shifting spaces seems crucial for understanding this work. It is true for both the online sexual actors and the gallery’s viewers who unintentionally take part in the virtual spectacle in a space arranged and defined by the artist.
A similar problem is addressed by Konrad Pustoła in a series of large format, panoramic photographs (Darkrooms), whose title plays on the double meaning of the term "darkroom", describing two different places. The space of a photographer’s darkroom overlaps with the simultaneously intimate and public space of the small rooms found in many gay clubs, where one can have casual sex out of society’s sight and judgement. The overlapping of these two connotations is by no means accidental. As Adam Mazur noticed, the title given by Konrad Pustoła suggests an analogy between the processes occurring in these two places. Just as exposed photographic films are developed in darkrooms, a "darkroom" in a gay club is a space for developing new relations between people that diverge from established social norms. It is this dissonance created between traditionally defined individual identity and an unstable contemporary reality that contributed to the creation of such ambiguous places. Suspended between the intimate and private and the public and political, they enable the development of new social and cultural relations and new customs that transgress the dominant discourse and accepted norms.
The photographs themselves depict the empty interiors of the clubs’ "darkrooms". Taken before the cleaners arrive and soon after the guests have left, the photographs show the traces or remains of the visitors. The suffocating atmosphere of these rooms corresponds with the highly sensual quality of the colour photographs, which after a moment of fascination evoke feelings of anxiety or annoyance. We can see wet spots on the walls, used condoms, or unmade bedding. The tight frames convey objects that play on stereotypes and prudery and confront the viewers with their prejudices and fantasies. Apart from the ambiguous visual qualities, these photographs also present another critical dimension. Similarly to S(t)imulations, they question the legitimacy of the classical division of space between the private and the public. They are also a sociological observation. For obvious reasons, the photographer does not disclose any information regarding the names of the clubs or personal information that would give the project a sociological flavour. However, the photographs do bear the titles of the cities where they were taken demonstrating the scale of the phenomena to the viewer. The Darkrooms series was shown in London in 2009 as part of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition of promising young graduates from the UK's top art schools.
In 2011 at the ArtBoom Festival in Kraków Pustoła presented the Views of Power series of photographs which shows the views from the office windows of the most important and influential people in Kraków, Zielona Góra, Wałbrzych and Gdańsk. Looking at the pictures allows anyone to assume the same perspective as the authorities in power. The work documents the views from the windows of, among others, Father Adam Boniecki, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the governor of Lesser Poland region Stanisław Kracik, city president Jacek Majchrowski, entrepreneur Jerzy Meysztowicz, rector of Jagiellonian University Karol Musioł, EU MPs Bogusław Sonik and Róża Thun, as well as Wisława Szymborska, Andrzej Wajda and Grzegorz Turnau. The view from their windows, which is always a marker of one's social status, is at the same time a direct source of information about the real world while at work. What do the people who hold political, symbolic and economic power see?
Konrad Pustoła is an artist that analyses visual aspects of social and economic relations without depriving them of high aesthetic values. His works often have a sociological angle, with their author clearly applying a critical perspective – stated Ewa Gorządek, curator of the artist's exhibition in the CCA Zamek Ujazdowski.
An example of such a project is the Unfinished Houses series of photographs created in 2005 and presented for the first time at the exhibition Undiscovered / Unspoken at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw. Pustoła focused on the topic of uninhabited, abandoned, and unfinished houses standing in the middle of fields. The series could be read as a grim commentary on the economic transformation of the new Poland: the houses belonged to owners who, encouraged by the bull market of the 90s, fell into a loan/mortgage frenzy and subsequently into debts which they were unable to pay back. The quasi-mansions, designed as private palaces but today left unprotected tell a sad story of many lives’ failures.
In Pekao PROJECT ROOM, an initiative of CCA Zamek Ujazdowski Pustoła showed a video that drew attention to a social phenomena. Biało-czerwoni (White and Reds) features a footage filmed in Warsaw during the Euro 2012 UEFA European Football. During the first half of the Poland vs. Russia game Pustoła used a nearly “bird’s-eye view” perspective to film the behaviour of people watching the match on a big outdoor screen in the fan zone outside the Palace of Culture and Science. The reactions of the dense, heavy crowd following the actions of the players on the pitch perfectly capture the course of this sporting event and emotions it evokes. This piece of work is quite long; it is nearly as long as a half a football match. The sunlight falling on the crowds of fans wearing sports T-shirts is a special “character” in this film: the sunset gradually changes the dominating colours of the frames, it moves very slowly from white to red, thus giving the work a symbolic meaning.
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, July 2010, updated: October 2015, GS
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