Dazzlingly Obvious: Photographing Poland's Public Spaces
#photography & visual arts
small, Dazzlingly Obvious:
Public Spaces, Photograph by Krzysztof Eberle, photo: courtesy of the artist, 389.jpg
What can be read from the landscapes that we pass through every day? Why is it worth photographing the view from a window? What hidden message does the tree in a neighbour’s back garden hold?
The city is a space which provides a large number of different aesthetic experiences: images, sounds and smells. Photographing it in a natural, objective way allows one to concentrate on the chosen element of the landscape and analyse it. Thanks to this division of the space (photographing, or quoting it), it’s no longer something obvious, accepted without reflection – it becomes vulnerable to criticism.
The authors presented below can be connected with the output of Berndt and Hill Becher from the Dusseldorf photographic school, who presented industrial architecture in a monumental way. In America, the exhibition New Topographics (1975), curated by William Jenkins, became a turning point for this mode of depiction. In Poland, it was mainly Wojciech Wilczek who popularised realistic photography, which avoids excessive stylisation.
The New Faces of Polish Theatre Photography
Wilczek, the curator of the photo-realism exhibition and author of several important photographic projects, also runs a blog on hyper-realism. In the text Critical Topography accompanying the exhibition Warsaw Under Construction, he notes that from the beginning of the 1990s, photographers were more interested in subjects which provoke discussion by touching upon social, economic, or historic problems. Below is a selection of Polish projects of this kind.
Architecture of the Seventh Day
The Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw, photo from the 'Architecture of the Seventh Day' project, photo: courtesy of the Bęc Zmiana Foundation
After the Second World War, 3,779 churches were built in Poland, which have strongly influenced the landscape but still haven’t been widely commented on. In the times of the communist regime, funding them was a form of social protest against the authorities. Most of them came to existence only thanks to the activities of the faithful. On the website www.architektura7dnia.pl, one can add one's own story connected with building a certain church, read articles (for example, the fascinating story of the Lord’s Ark in Nowa Huta) and view thematic galleries. The curators of the project are Kuba Snopek and Iza Cichońska.
Sacred Restorations: Polish Cathedrals Built Anew
The thuja – a coniferous plant from the cypress family – is, in the opinion of Piotr Bekas, often used for the ‘protection’ of private property from outside eyes. The photographer asks if thujas are extensions of window curtains, an attempt at protecting from the undefined, from hostility assumed in advance, while at the same time, strengthening the feeling that there is something to be afraid of. Ironically, the conifer, in addition to covering and isolating, can send out a desperate message: Here I am (a phrase homophonous with the plant's name in Polish)! piotrbekas.pl
Photos from the series 'The City Sleeps' by Łukasz Biederman, photo: courtesy of the artist
The City Sleeps is a series presenting the streets of small cities after nightfall: empty pavements and the borders of villages lit by the muted light of sodium lamps. The photos were exhibited during the Kraków Photo Month in 2010. lukaszbiederman.com
A Subjective Guide to Kraków Photomonth
Land carrying capacity is the number of square metres of living space in a building which it is possible to obtain with certain conditions of development. In his project, Certowicz notices that the profitability of investments often outweighs aesthetic issues. jakubcertowicz.pl
A photo of the Średnicowy Bridge in Warsaw covered with a printed canvas a few months before Euro 2012 shows a hoax created for the needs of the performance – the rusting construction didn’t fit to the imagined concept. During the competition, the bridge was covered with adverts for the sponsors of the event. chrobak.ch
The Anthology of Polish Photography – Jerzy Lewczyński
Photograph by Natalia Dołgowska, photo: courtesy of the artist
The photography series entitled This Is All America presents unfinished houses in Podhale which were built from money sent by Polish emigrants working in the USA. It’s complemented by private photographs and fragments of interviews. dolgowska.com
Since 2007, Krzysztof Eberle has managed the blog mouthstrappedinstatic.blogspot.com, where he documents the changing Polish landscape. He is interested in degraded places, the borders of modernity and the influence of capitalist thinking on its surroundings (above). Sacred elements and outdoor advertising often appear in his works. Eberle enjoys simple signs and confronting contrasting elements. His photographs taken from an elevated platform during celebrations and festivals are especially interesting.
Art and Technology in Poland: from Modernity to Technoculture
Antonina Gugała has documented the showcases of more than 80 photography workshops from Warsaw. In Warsaw Photographer, she pays attention to the visual language used by the craftsmen-photographers aiming to catch the attention of passers-by. Part of the project is a collection of photos taken by the author in all of the photographed places. antoninagugala.com
In Halfway, the photographer observes a medium-sized town in the centre of Poland. It shows the monuments of the local authorities’ aspirations – town squares after modernisation, shutters from open-air events, a water park. He photographs objects which are ostensibly transparent – usually considered as symbols of progress – which for many years, have improved the quality of life of residents and their perception of communal space. patrykkarbowski.com
Poland: A Multi-Layered Photographic Portrait
Photo from the series 'Lavender Hill' by Łukasz Kniter, photo: courtesy of the artist
A new settlement of semi-detached houses and part of a field where chickens walk: ‘city-country in all its glory’, as the photographer summed up on his blog. Fenced housing developments being built on former village grounds is a common sight in Poland, and Lavender Hill is no exception here. Developers love to encourage potential clients with the lower price per square metre than in the city centre and a ‘dynamically developing neighbourhood’ to compensate for the current lack of infrastructure. enclosed-space.blogspot.com
Disco Polo is a collection of photographs presenting visual chaos in communal space. Neon colours replacing grey plattenbau from the Polish People’s Republic, false plants in granite flowerpots, a roadside palm tree in a winter landscape. paulinakorobkiewicz.com
China in the Eyes of Polish Photographers
Łuczak began photographing the brutalist Katowice railway station in the year 2010. He not only immortalised its excellent architecture, but also the people for whom the place was very important as a local symbol. At the beginning of 2011, the last of the ferro-concrete chalices forming the building’s structure was removed, the land was intended for building a shopping mall. Brutal’s history is more emotional than most of the aforementioned projects, but it’s a perfect example of the trend towards maximising profits in planning the city centre. michal-luczak.com
In Unholy Life, Pijarski offers a visual archaeology of Warsaw. Searching for traces of lost history, the photographer examines the fate of monuments and their heroes and poses questions about the logic governing their construction and disappearance. To this end, he photographs public squares in contemporary Warsaw, juxtaposing them with archival materials. The book Unholy Life can be viewed on the artist's website: pijarski.art.pl.
Warsaw Photographer – Antonina Gugała
One’s point of view can be a direct source of information about the outside world during the workday. Konrad Pustoła became interested in what is visible from the offices of people with political, economic, or symbolic power. Views of Power, published by the Bęc Zmiana Foundation, shows the view from the windows of politicians, entrepreneurs, people from the media and pop stars. viewsofpower.com
Krzysztof Pacholak, a photographer and animator associated with the ‘ę’ Association of Creative Initiatives, portrayed highways and traffic interchanges in his Transit project. Here, he notes how strongly these features change the landscape, as well as the fact that they’re designed only for vehicle traffic. On the other hand, he is enchanted by their charm: He observes these severe, concrete constructions with admiration. pacholak.net
Tomek Sikora: A Photographer’s Work Doesn’t Finish with Pressing the Shutter Button
'Urban Collage' by Krzysztof Sienkiewicz, photo: courtesy of the artist
After a few years of photographing urban landscapes, Krzysztof Sienkiewicz decided that Warsaw’s story is best told by buildings that look as if they were put in the wrong place. In his photos, socialist realism meets modern offices, and pre-war buildings meet post-war modernism. In one of the photos, an estate is dominated the Galaxy solarium; in another, pastel colours compete with offices for the viewer’s attention. krzysztofsienkiewicz.com
The photographer immortalised newly built, yet often unfinished settlements in and around Warsaw. Empty spaces and corn fields contrast with new buildings with no public transport, shops, or schools. jedrzejsokolowski.pl
"Zofia Chomętowska Between Frames: Photographs from 1925-1945" - Selected Works
Work by Juliusz Sokołowski from the exhibition 'Un-Presented World'
I always look for degraded objects on the streets, testifying to the strength of the new economic, social and architectural trends. What is rejected, demanding immortality from the photographer. Decay is the last manifestation of its glory.
For his exhibition Un-Presented World, Juliusz Sokołowski, one of the most renowned Polish architecture photographers, prepared an installation composed of two symbols of the political transformation: part of a neighbourhood and a lamp from a popular interior-design shop. In a text published on his blog, the photographer describes how the desire for change influenced thinking about the common space – and why one of the symbols of those changes was a paving stone.
Loss by Paweł Starzec, a photographer, curator, and sociologist, tells the story of Wałbrzych, where the coal mines closed after 500 years. Shots of degraded post-industrial landscapes are complemented by portraits of the town’s citizens. pawelstarzec.com
How Zofia Rydet's Photography Intimately Revealed Polish Homes
Wojciech Wilczyk is a photographer and a poet. In An Innocent Eye Doesn’t Exist, he documented former synagogues and prayer houses, observing the visual memory of the Holocaust. The Holy War is a collection of murals which blend into the landscape of the contemporary Poland, acclimatising society to visual violence, anaesthetising it. The Other City is a series of contemporary photographs of the grounds of the former Warsaw Ghetto, realised in co-operation with Elżbieta Janicka. The authors considered the development of the area of the Ghetto as follows, in what might be the most appropriate closing to this article:
We are against the inflation of monuments. The most adequate form of remembering the Holocaust would be a culture and society free from violence and exclusion [...]. We can’t afford nothingness in the middle of the city. Land is expensive? It matters all the more.
contemporary polish photography
Originally written in Polish by Michał Dąbrowski, Nov 2016; translated by BR, Dec 2016