Photographer. Born in 1976 in Warsaw. Pustoła is a very successful contemporary photographer whose photography has been presented at numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad.
Konrad Pustoła, photo: Kacper Pempel / East News
Photographer. Born in 1976 in Warsaw.
Konrad Pustoła is a very successful contemporary photographer whose photography has been presented at numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad. He is the winner of 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.
Konrad 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 is a co-founder of the Photographers Association "poniekąd," 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 searches 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 photographs 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 judgment. 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.
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, July 2010.
Selected individual exhibitions:
• 2001 - "Ale Meksyk!" / "Mexico!", Ignacy Paderewski Museum, Warsaw;
• 2002 – "Sanna" / "Sleigh Ride", "Kalatówki" hostel, Black-and-White Photography Festival, Zakopane;
• 2003 – "Ale Meksyk!"/ "Mexico!" Darmstadt House, Płock;
• 2004 – "Siena", the Cultural Institute of Italy, Photomonth, Krakow;
• 2004 - "Siena", Galeria Wizytująca, Warsaw;
• 2004 – "Warszawa"/ "Warsaw", Lumo 04, Photographic Triennial, Jyvaskyla, Finland;
• 2005 – "Warszawa" / "Warsaw", KULTURJAHR der ZEHN, Berlin, Germany;
• 2006 – "Autor"/ "The Author", Galeria Okna, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
• 2006 – "S(t)ymulacje" / "S(t)imulations", Otwarta Pracownia, Photomonth, Krakow;
• 2009 - "Darkrooms", Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
• 2010 - "Darkrooms", The Gallery of Contemporary Art Bunkier Sztuki Kraków.
Selective collective exhibitions:
• 1998 – "Miasto"/ "City" the University of Warsaw, Warsaw;
• 2000 – "Supermarket sztuki" / "Art Supermarket" Galeria DAP, Warsaw;
• 2001 – "W ciągu pieszym"/ "Passing-by Series", the wall of St. Anna’s Church, Warsaw;
• 2001 – "Warszawa od świtu do zmierzchu"/ "Warsaw from Dawn to Dusk", Association of Polish Art Photographers (ZPAF) Gallery, Warsaw;
• 2002 – "Powiększenie. Fotografia w czasach zgiełku"/ "Blow-up. Photography in the Times of Turmoil", the Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw;
• 2006 – "Architektura intymna, architektura porzucona"/ "Intimate Architecture, Abandoned Architecture", Kronika Gallery, Bytom;
• 2006 – "Nowi Dokumentaliści"/ "New Documentalists", Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
• 2007 – "Antyfotografie" / "Anti-photography", Arsenal City Gallery, Biennale of Photography, Poznan;
• 2008 – "Efekt czerwonych oczu"/ "The Red Eye Effect" Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
• 2008 – "Wenus polska"/ "Polish Venus" former Brother Albert’s Kitchen, Photomonth, Krakow;
• 2009 – "Nieodkryte/niewypowiedziane"/ "Undiscovered/Unspoken", The New Theatre, Warsaw.