Born in 1980 in Wałbrzych, the mining city in southwest Poland, she graduated from the Institute of Archaeology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, having specialized in Egypt and the Middle East. She began working as a photographer on international archeological projects organised by the university and from there her interest in the field has flourished. She began working as a freelance photographer for newspapers in 2007 and won second prize in Newsweek Poland's annual reportage competition that year, along with third prize in the national daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita's competition, sponsored by Olympus. Mirczak joined the Visavis.pl Photographers' Collective of Polish documentary photographers in 2008, then won first prize at the Grand Press Photo competition in the Sport category in 2010.
Her project Special Characteristics was presented at Paris Photo in 2010. The series documents tattoos collected by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Jagiellonian University since 1872. The sixty skin fragments were removed from deceased prisoners in Kraków and and preserved in formaldehyde.. The project has also been called Criminal Code, for the symbolic code that such tattoos represent in the criminal community, providing information about the individual's personal history, origins, social affiliations, interests and sense of humour. Many of the tattoos were done by the prisoners, using crude tools.
The Special Characteristics series received attention from international culture editors, including those of Esquire and The New Yorker magazines. Financial Times reviewer Francis Hodgson called Mirczak's project "the most eccentric discovery on show", writing that the works "show a range of lewdness. But they also include a delightful naïve sketch of a naked flapper, identified only by one of those head-tight hats, as well as a mysterious man on a bicycle. This is a series that cries out for a collector".
Mirczak's latest project Eter was represented at Paris Photo in 2012 via an album of works, which also pertain to the enigmatic world of crime and criminals. Tools is a morbid variation on the still life, in which colour photographs show everyday objects presumably used in criminal acts. In the series, a banal object such as a dishrag takes on a new, disturbing connotation. The second part of the series shows a series of archive police photos of corposes laid out in unnatural positions, the frames frayed by time, bereft of any artistic intention - and yet Mirczak can identify a certain artistic potential within these uncomfortable images, particularly in the early 19th -century photographs that often take on a painterly aspect after years of weathering.
The photographs are accmpanied by a description of the person: name, cause of death, etc.. As Mirczak says that it is important for her not to expose her subjects entirely, respecting a degree of privacy in not giving their surnames - yet she does make sure to include their first names. Her aim is to come closer to the victim and bring her viewer closer, which is relevant in an age where people are often desensitised to violence. "When you give a body a name, decipher the criminal code, you get closer. (Closer) to something frightening, which awaits all of us and which we cannot escape", said Mirczak in an interview with Tygodnik Powszechny (18 November edition).
In the same interview, Marczak declares, "Photography is never objective. It is made by a pair of eyes, behind this pair of eyes is a brain, then someone's feelings and experiences". These emotions often add up to the beauty of an image, even outside of its literal context.
Katarzyna Mirczak is represted by Eric Franck Fine Art, the gallery based in London.
Author: Agnes Monod-Gayraud, November 2012