Andrzej Tobis designed his own version of an illustrated Polish-German dictionary issued two decades ago in the German Democratic Republic. Whilst he’s enclosed the literal meaning and references of the images in brackets, he put an emphasis on absurdity and ambiguity.
Imagine a classic, illustrated bilingual dictionary. Ideally, a dog-eared volume, the first edition of which dates back to a reality that half of modern society cannot remember. A dictionary found in a lumber room, or a dictionary that students would not pay attention to in a city library; that is the kind of dictionary that fortunately drew Andrzej Tobis’s attention.
What's more, not only did he retrieve it, but he translated it into his (our?) language. The Bildwörterbuch Deutsch und Polnisch, first published in 1954, is a bulky volume comprising more than 10,000 entries with illustrations that help to understand / visualize their definitions. The list of entries comprises common terms like ‘potato’ or ‘penguin’ but also quite ambiguous ones, such as ‘sand box’ or ‘sloping slide’.
In November 2006, almost fifty years after the publication of the first edition of the GDR dictionary, Andrzej Tobis commenced collecting and carefully cataloging new images for old entries. He commented:
The photographs illustrating the entries from the original dictionary have to be taken exclusively in Poland. The situations and objects in the photographs are neither pre-arranged nor digitally edited; they need to be found. Each entry in German and Polish has its own index number taken from the original dictionary. The photo and the entry, which is placed below it on a white bar, constitute an integral whole.
Tobis, a graduate of the faculty of painting that became his passion and profession, despite his ‘formal’ approach to the project, follows his intuition or a hunch in finding the objects to be captured on film.
Basically, my rule is not to contrive the situations shown in the pictures. They must be discovered. If I’d like to show what’s happening here now, for instance, I wouldn’t move the chair to improve the composition. I neither add nor remove anything. To sum it up, I have to find myself in a certain situation. I have to try to look at it from different sides, but in a natural way, with no extra gymnastics, no pressure. If it is possible, that’s OK. If not – sorry, I give up.
– Tobis said in an interview with Bogna Świątkowska.
The author of the ‘revised Polish edition’ presents the reader with an intentionally unfinished work. The A-Z German-Polish Illustrated Dictionary is a conceptual and contemplative artifact. Both enthusiasts of Zofia Rydet’s Sociological Record and students of anthropology or visual culture, as well as photography historians and practitioners will find the dictionary inspirational.
It's something interesting for a dictionary since we can hardly imagine a more objective form of presenting reality. Yet here this very form was used to sketch out a strongly biased and subjective vision of reality. In my work I use the same words, unchanged, from the dictionary. The illustrations I leave behind. Sometimes they are funny when juxtaposed with contemporary Polish equivalents, but I’m not interested in them. I pick out a word from the old dictionary as if I naively believed that its meaning is permanent. Picture, images change but words remain the same.
After seven years of searching for new images to old entries, the linguistic and visual journey of Andrzej Tobis materialized in the form of photo-book published by the Bęc Zmiana Foundation and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. A-Z comprises 100 entries in three languages (Polish, German, English) accompanied by an interview with the author commenting on his project as well as a curatorial text.
Nonetheless, the publication does not put an end to the devised project. As it is the case with any dictionary, Tobis’s glossary awaits further editions. Thus, the author argues:
The work continues because reality is constantly surprising and there are situations when it is difficult to resist it.
A-Z German-Polish Illustrated Dictionary
Photo: Andrzej Tobis
Text: Sebastian Cichocki
Editor: Piotr DrewkoProject
Translation: ABC tłumaczenia, Marek Jarosz, Katarzyna Lorenc, Łukasz Mojsak
Graphic design : Tomek Bersz
Source: promotional materials, www.aztobis.pl, own materials, ed . D.S., 9.03.2015, transl. GS, April, 2015