In this series of self-portraits, Żak demonstrates the inconsistencies of human nature and the illusory nature of photography. The story of how the pictures came into being is also a fitting comment on their content.
For Paweł Żak, photography is an instrument of self-expression. Before A Close Acquaintance, he wove Tales out of flowers, figurines, and other ‘inanimate’ elements. He avoided including people because, as he stated in interviews:
I am shy. I feel bad when I’m directing someone.
His initial premise for A Close Acquaintance was simple – he wished to portray a person looking at themselves in a mirror but seeing themselves differently. He invited a young female artist to pose for the camera and act out what he asked.
When I looked at the photos, I was utterly disappointed. They lay in a drawer for a year and a half (…) That was how long it took me to realise that, in fact, the problem lay in me.
The photographer returned to the project, intending to do it purely for himself, to be filed away in a drawer. On the technical side, everything was ready: the studio, a camera that could shoot half of each frame separately, and a mirror. After taking some shots with himself in the lead role, he decided to show them to his friends, who confirmed his hunch that, this time, he had managed to capture something deeper and convey familiar feelings.
Żak’s black-and-white self-portraits are the fruit of his quest for the Other in himself, displaying his inner duality and divided ego. At the start of the project, all the artist knew was that he wished to examine identity. He was then forced to confront himself and his own image during the creative process. The director of the Arles photography festival appreciated this honest gesture, and invited him to France for an exhibition in 2004.
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.