Apart from wars, Krzysztof Miller also used to photograph daily life in Poland. One day, while returning from a failed assignment, he noticed a drunk cyclist near Siedlce.
This picture was taken in the Białystok area, during the Orthodox Epiphany celebrations on January 19, 1997. Miller had been planning to photograph a priest on a boat in the middle of the Bug River, but it never happened – the preacher settled for blessing water in a well instead. So, the disappointed photographer set off back to Warsaw via Siedlce.
Miller noticed the titular man from afar because, as he later commented, ‘he was all over the road’. He took several dozen shots, showing the old man struggling, falling, and striving to regain his balance. In the end, he did manage to mount his bicycle and ride away.
In Poland, the 1990s were a time of intense socio-economic change, hyperinflation and high unemployment. The process of liquidating state-owned agricultural enterprises was completed in 1995. State farms had formerly provided income and organised the workers’ social lives, so their closure forced farmers to adjust to new job-market realities and change their ways. Miller’s photograph, taken in the latter half of the decade, is a good illustration of that turning point.
Drunk Cyclist became unexpectedly popular and featured in advertising, social campaigns, and memes. Years later, the photographer admitted he had ‘lost control over it’, and added:
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018