A Diary of a Journey - Piotr Stasik
Still from Piotr Stasik's "A Diary of a Journey", photo: Krakow Film Festival
They call him the Polish Cartier-Bresson, an artist from the dying line of photographers without whom "we would be living in the eternal and perfect translucent present, like on TV". A man who photographed wartime Warsaw and lives today to share his knowledge, Tadeusz Rolke is the star of Piotr Stasik's documentary
Known for his photographs of wartime Warsaw and inspired images of cultural life in postwar Poland and Germany, Tadeusz Rolke's photographic archive constitutes 60 years of Polish and European history. Rolke is considered one of Poland's most accomplished photographers. He photographed the silhouette of the Palace of Culture and Science rising over Warsaw's rubble, anti-communist rallies, the changes after 1989. He played an important role as a photographer of artistic life, capturing the creative activities of Tadeusz Kantor, Roman Polański, Artur Rubinstein, Alina Szapocznikow and Nikifor.
A Diary of a Journey brings together two very odd protagonists: a 15-year-old apprentice and his 82-year-old teacher. From a rite of initiation for the former and the reflections on a lifetime of experiences by the latter, the director Stasik created a film about the magic of photography, the power of curiosity and the need to create as means of communicating with the world.
All eyes on Rolke
"I come from a small village, and when I was a teenager, while digging for potatoes," Piotr Stasik says in an interview for Polish Radio Three, "I dreamt that a master would come and see me. He never came, but years later, by making this film, I made my own dream come true, I did a trip with the master of photography".
The idea for the film surfaced thanks to Michał, Stasik's 15-year-old student at the Wajda School. He was interested in analog photography and wanted to make a film about Tadeusz Rolke. "When I saw their faces, I thought that everyone yearns to have masters that they can look up to", he continued in the interview, "and that's how I came up with the idea for the film".
In a camper van equipped with a darkroom, the 15-year-old and the 82-year-old went on a journey across Poland. They travelled thousands of kilometres, photographing people in small towns and villages. Stasik came along with them and through his film, he tells the story of the journey.
Rolke turned out to be the perfect teacher. He is patient and understanding, he gives his student technical advice. "A photographer can't give in a print like this. And you definitely can't sign a photograph like this", he says about an unevenly developed copy, and shares his philosophy of photography: "You have to believe what the camera tell you" he says.
Life's focal point
In time, the relationship between the protagonists changes, and so do the topics of their conversations. They start talking about women, about curiosity, health and coping with weaknesses. Rolke is happy to pass on his insight, "If someone had told me these things when I was 15, I would have been smarter", he says.
The journey also gives Rolke the chance to look back at his life. He reminisces about his childhood and the role that photography played in it. "When I was a boy, I was very shy". The camera was his way of coping with reality, it allowed him to approach people. The photograph became his medium of communication. One which denudes, discerns and qualifies, brings out the beauty and distinguishes the fake from the natural. For Rolke photography is more than a profession, it's a love affair. Perhaps his one and only.
A documentary comedy
The film's melancholic moments and serious conversations are interlaced with humorous interjections. The protagonists clever, auto-ironic dialogues are funny enough to have been taken from a feature-film script. "What I need is a pretty woman in Kościan", Rolke says in one of the scenes. "But there is not a single one here although we've been standing here for 15 minutes...". Or when he tells Michał about a cemetery in Warsaw: "You've never been there? Well, you'll see it at my funeral. I've already bought a slot there". After the film's premiere, Stasik admitted that he wanted to make a documentary comedy from the beginning.
Rolke and Michał's journey is both nostalgic and comical. With existential depth and room for slack, and owing much to its cinematography by Stasik and Tomasz Wolski, A Diary of a Journey portrays Rolke's bittersweet life, and attempts to answer what makes a photograph ravishing and moving.
- Dziennik z podróży / A Diary of a Journey, Script and directing: Piotr Stasik, Cinematography: Piotr Stasik, Tomasz Wolski, Music: Motion Trio, Editing: Tomasz Wolski. Poland 2013.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated and edited by MJ 11.06.2013Marta Jazowska