In his melancholic portraits of circus artistes, Milach tells a story of individuals and confronts the viewer with images of another reality.
Milach invited former circus performers to take part in his project, photographing them in their homes and their former circus school in Julinek near Warsaw. For over 40 years, it was a training centre for comedians, acrobats and trick riders. At the height of its activity, the centre housed nearly 1,500 artistes, teachers and technicians.
The artistes that Milach photographed agreed to take a day trip back in time. Henryka Sawicka, whom we see in the photograph, used to be a roller acrobat. Her costume and pose are reminiscent of the olden days. She stands as if playing a well-rehearsed role on stage. The directional beam illuminating her resembles a circus spotlight. However, although still brightly coloured, the shabby classroom wall clearly betrays the passage of time. The photographs, rendered surreal by old stage props, are like the recurring tune in Fellini’s La Strada, triggering memories of the past – childhood, former lovers and erstwhile passions.
Apart from a story of individuals, Milach’s works also contain an analytical element. The power of these stark portraits emanates not from their aesthetic, but from the way they confront the viewer with reality – hinting at the end of an era; that bygone phenomena are incompatible with the modern world. These international-award-winning works allow Poles to recall the times when touring artistes once brought a splash of colour to the grey reality of Poland under Communism.
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.