This is a photograph from the book At The Border, a photographic essay on the illegal labour market in the European Union’s former new member states of Poland, Czechia, Slovenia and Slovakia.
This project by the Sputnik Photos collective from Central and Eastern Europe focuses on everyday problems of illegal economic migrants seeking their fortune in ‘new Europe’. The text accompanying the photographs includes:
They are illegal. Not only have they found themselves in a foreign culture, amongst people speaking an incomprehensible language, they are also constantly living on the edge of the law, and experience social rejection. The jobs that await them are usually ones that no one else would do. They have often lived far apart from their families for many years.
Milach’s series Ba Lan (‘Poland’ in Vietnamese) depicts the Vietnamese minority living in Warsaw. According to information provided by the photographer, in 2008, most of the 30,000-strong diaspora lived in the capital, where they generally earned a living selling clothes and fast food. Up to 80% of them could have been in Poland illegally. The reasons for this situation were reputedly the language barrier and inflexible labour laws, which resulted in them existing in a closed community, even though some of them had already been in Poland for three generations. Nevertheless, Milach managed to win the community’s trust, and he depicted them at work, playing pool, and during family celebrations.
Milach took the above photograph in October 2005 at Warsaw’s national stadium, where the market even used to trade at night. Two men are asleep, seemingly slumped at the back of a cramped market stall. It is 4:20 am. They are making the most of a spare moment to catch a nap among the cardboard boxes while guarding their goods or waiting for their first customers. The orange glow of a light bulb keeps them half-awake.
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.