Michał Iwanowski is a photographer, born in 1977 in Wrocław. He lives and works in Cardiff, Wales. His works focus on the problem of memory and its relationship with photographic image. In 2009, he received an Emerging Photographer Award from the Canadian Magenta Foundation.
Photographer born in 1977 in Wrocław. Lives and works in Cardiff, Wales.
Iwanowski started taking photographs as a teenager. Fascinated with analogue cameras from the times of Polish People’s Republic, he did his first experiments in primary school. His first professional encounter with light-sensitive materials wasn’t until 2003, however, when, at the age of twenty six, he got a summer job at a photo studio in Sweden. As the artist comments in a conversation with Culture.pl:
That was more like casual crawling, kindergarten.
After graduating from high school, Iwanowski decided to continue studies at the University of Wrocław in the Faculty of English. In his last year, in 2001, he went on a student exchange to Great Britain. That was when he first started seriously thinking about photography. After one semester, Iwanowski came back to Poland, where he completed his higher education. He then left for Wales again, where he has lived ever since.
It was a turning point. A beginning and an end. I came back to Wrocław only for a short while, to take my MA exams, and very soon afterwards I moved to Wales permanently. I suspect that I will continue living in this painful in-between for the rest of my life.
In 2008, he defended his MA in Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales, Newport. One year later, he received the prestigious Emerging Photographer Award from Magenta Foundation. Currently, apart from working on his art projects, he leads practical workshops at Ffotogallery in Cardiff.
In his creative practice, Iwanowski focuses on the relationship between image and memory. The artist associates this theme directly with his personal instincts, saying:
My memory is so-so. A mess, fragments, trivial things in a bundle. To my misfortune, this is paired with an unstoppable need to remember. Based on the naïve belief that photography has the power to store, I instinctively started to photograph the persons and places whose loss I feared the most. Later, buried in photographs, like Roland Barthes, I searched for those persons and places in them, often to no avail. Initially, it was disappointing. With time, however, I started being more forgiving towards photography and having fewer expectations about it.
To Iwanowski, the photographic medium is not a proof of existence, but only its interpretation. That is why the artist’s projects are always accompanied by text, telling a story alongside them. So far, he has created four projects framed in this way: Minus The Mother, Fairy Forts, NE, and Clear of People.
The most personal out of the above is Minus the Mother, featuring artistic photographs of the artist’s mother. Iwanowski started taking the photographs in 2006, when he learned about his mother’s terminal illness. His mother’s pictures are poetic shots, filled with metaphors and mysteries. The woman’s figure never appears in them, as if to some extent it didn’t exist anymore. Instead, there are head feet, hands, a blurred silhouette against the background of a forest, as well as several pictures of landscape, her natural environment.
Fairy Forts is a photographic documentation of a journey to west Ireland, whereas NE comprises posed photographs of persons of special importance to the artist.
A breakthrough moment for Iwanowski was an art residency in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 2012. That is also when he came up with the idea for the project Clear of People. It consisted in recreating his uncle’s route of escape from a Soviet gulag to Poland. Based on a map created seventy years earlier and memories of his ancestors, Iwanowski travelled exactly the same path across the territories of present Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Poland, adding up to over two thousand kilometres.
As a photographer, Iwanowski favours modest means of expression. He usually uses a 50mm lens with a fixed focal length and an analogue camera. The colours appearing in his projects are very realistic, while his frame composition follows the classical rules. Iwanowski doesn’t engage the viewer in a play with the depth of the image or manipulate the photographs. Instead, he focuses on making the audience interested in a story in which photography only plays one part.
A book based on the project Clear of People is currently available for pre-order.
- 2008 – Finalist in British Journal of Photography Project Assistance Award
- 2009 – Winner of Magenta Foundation Emerging Photographer 2009 Award
- 2009 – Wales Arts International Grant for Fairy Fort Project
- 2012 – Kaunas Artist Residency awarded by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture
- 2013 – Arts Council of Wales Grant for the completion and presentation of Clear Of People
Sources: The Guardian, BBC, www.michaliwanowski.com, own materials, ed. DS, 19.09.2016, transl. AM, October 2016