Mikołaj Długosz’s book contains photographs of consumer goods from the 1990s. By showing us old commercial photos, he offers a glimpse into the beginnings of capitalism in Poland.
In his 1994, Mikołaj Długosz reflects on the origins of contemporary Polish consumer culture, using packshot photographs that he saved from destruction. They were taken in 1994 for the Makro Cash&Carry hypermarket chain’s promotional newspapers, which used to clog up our mailboxes before the advent of the Internet.
This book is like a mail-order catalogue without the prices. Products are photographed out of context – the backgrounds smooth, often a single colour, and sometimes the lighting creates gradient. The album is made up of three parts, showing food items, cosmetics and household goods. Długosz has recontextualised these banal photographs of objects by raising their status from commercial to artistic. This permits him to highlight fetishes that were central to life in the times of Polish turbo-capitalism, a few years after Balcerowicz’s reforms went into effect.
What was on sale in the hypermarkets of the 1990s? American-flag bed-linen, Walkmen, Dick Black orangeade, or that ubiquitous fixture of most offices – a Panasonic desk phone. Indeed, some of the objects displayed in the book could be regarded as symbols of Poland’s aspirations on the free market. Those selected by Długosz demonstrate how rapidly consumers’ tastes have evolved, and how satisfying basic needs came to be replaced by rampant consumerism, in an attempt to realise fantasies of a certain lifestyle.
Here, Długosz plays the anthropologist, collector and chronicler. Out of two thousand slides found in a former photographic studio, he has crafted a nostalgic tale of contemporary Polish history and dreams that can come true while shopping.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MB, Nov 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.