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Zuza Krajewska

Zuza Krajewska, photo courtesy the photographer
Zuza Krajewska, photo courtesy the photographer

Zuza Krajewska is not easily pigeonholed – even though she is mainly known for her work for exclusive fashion magazines, she does not limit herself to their polished and retouched reality. She continues to search for new challenges and themes, constantly changing her style and engaging with new problems.

In June 2006, the Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw launched the exhibition titled New Documentalists. Its curator, Adam Mazur, selected works by a dozen photographers documenting the surrounding reality in new ways, previously unseen on the Polish scene, and often also controversial. The showcased group of photographers included Zuza Krajewska, who at the time was thirty-one years old. She presented the series Traces – portraits of people with visible marks of dangerous accidents: a leg in a cast, a large scar, wounds, bruises. One of the series' protagonist, Zosia, with a brace-lined smile with missing teeth, was featured on the poster promoting the exhibition. It's hardly surprising – the portrait of the young, pretty girl in the style of glossy magazines immediately aroused attention. The exposed ‘defect’ created a disturbing effect, as it broke with the aesthetic standards that the audience was accustomed to. The photographer previously specialised in transcending aesthetic habits – in 2003, she showed portraits and nudes (at the time still signing her works as Madame Żużu) which bordered on tastefulness and kitsch. Their character was formed by the use of intense colours, a comic-like, exaggerated style, as well as peculiar and surprising props held by the models. ‘Laced with ambiguous eroticism, Żużu's portraits are rooted in the glitz of pop culture, advertising, and fashion’, wrote Adam Mazur about this series on, referring to its as ‘ironic’ and ‘coquetish.’

Zuza Krajewska was born in 1975. She is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. For years, she has been simultaneously active in two, seemingly completely contradictory universes – the art world and the realm of shiny glitz that is fashion magazines. Krajewska is one of the most recognised fashion photographers – her photo shoots are featured beyond just in exclusive Polish lifestyle magazines, while her commercial photographs stand out in their originality among the masses of uniform over-aesthethicised pictures. She takes portraits of celebrities, politicians, and writers, many of whom apparently hope to be photographed by her, as she always comes up with non-orthodox, often controversial, but always memorable images. Krajewska has worked in fashion photography for many years and at a very high intensity level – however, she still has not lost the freshness of ideas and sense: whenever it is appropriate, she creates minimalist shoots, on another occasion – series filled with baroque abundance, kitschy, or low-key. She is capable of photographing celebrities with great style, regardless of whether they are posing with a shoe on their head, inside the Royal Castle, or naked in a swimming pool.

Apart from creating commercial shoots and photographs for magazines and fashion houses, Zuza Krajewska is also a professional art photographer. She has taken part in almost twenty exhibitions, in which she presented works created outside of her commercial activity. Most of them are concerned with the issues of human corporeality, eroticism, perceptions of gender and the stereotypes surrounding it. The previous cycles, realised with her former work and life partner, Bartek Wieczorek, such as I Just Want to See the Boy Happy, Boyeurism, or Backstage Stories, were concerned with the male body.

A male nude was described in a language which is usually applied to the female body. We have subtle eroticism, lazy, casual flirtatiousness, and unrestrained contemplation of aestheticised body – all of which are normally applied in reference to female body. Once again, it turns out that no one knows how to approach male body, that in culture there does not exist a discourse of male corporeality that is not stigmatised by stereotypical thinking. Nonetheless, Boyeurism reveals something more, i.e. the fluidity (and artificiality) of the traditional categories of masculinity and femininity. – Anna Lewińska wrote in Obieg.

In 2013, Krajewska presented a new cycle, Solstice, revolving around young women. And yet again, she showed people and their corporeality, physicality in a subtle, sensual, and at the same time honest and realistic way (without retouch or idealisation, known from fashion magazines). The nudity in these photographs is natural, while the light erotic tensions are not shown directly, but instead appear in the viewer's imagination. Just like boys in the series I Just Want to See the Boy Happy and Boyeurism, so the girls in Solstice are natural and liberated, they seem to be photographed spontaneously, in unstaged surroundings. The artist creates somewhat incidental images, which could be treated as a critique of contemporary canons of beauty, gender patterns, and ways of portraying nudity and eroticism.

In 2016, Zuza Krajewska surprised once more, by showing a new set of photographs, taken in a youth detention centre in Studzieniec. It is a completely new subject in the photographer's body of work – when taking pictures of teenage residents of the centre, Krajewska stepped even further away from the colour world of fashion magazines, focusing on the problems and experiences of young, isolated boys, condemned for smaller and bigger cries. Moreover, work on this project absorbed the author to a much greater extent than she had anticipated. As she says, work that initially was scheduled to take a few weeks expanded to twelve months.

I entered this project, because it brings me to an interesting intersection of a number of issues: toughness, boundary crossing, punishment, but also children's sensitivity and the lust for love and acceptance. – said Krajewska in an interview for ID magazine.

The collection of photographs devoted to boys from the detention centre is a combination of touching, intimate portraits with more reportage-like images. The author tells the story of the juveniles of multiple levels, showing their everyday life here and now, but also, thanks to being able to capture their emotions and feelings – about their past experiences.

Zuza Krajewska is not easily pigeonholed – even though she is mainly known from her work for colour, exclusive fashion magazines, she does not limit herself to their polished and retouched reality. She continues to search for new challenges and themes, constantly changes her style, and engages with new problems. As she has repeatedly said, photography is her passion and a way of living, thanks to which she is not only able to make a living, but also observe and narrate the reality. It turns out that one can simultaneously receive the Elle Style Award from a lifestyle magazine, and present a poignant series about juvenile delinquents. All areas of Krajewska's activity are equally honest and authentic. It is worth keeping an eye on them.


transl. AM, May 2016's picture

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