Zuza Krajewska’s photographs depict teenagers on the cusp of adulthood at the Studzieniec youth detention centre.
What interested the photographer most were the contrasts in these correctional-facility boys. She believes that their viciousness and constant desire to push the limits goes hand-in-hand with their childish sensitivity and need to be loved. She introduced the exhibition with this text:
Insects at the imago stage are like adult individuals, but smaller. (...) The chitinous carapaces protecting their bodies are still soft and elastic, and will only harden with time.
The innocence the artist has caught in her subjects’ faces belies their past. Sometimes they seem awkwardly childlike in the photos, shouting, jumping and playing like ordinary kids. In others, however, we see them posing with knives or smoking, often grinning roguishly or looking defiant. The photographer also portrays their adolescent bodies, scrawny necks, hairless torsos, and spots. They all have short-cropped hair and wear similar tracksuits.
In an interview, Krajewska admitted that she went to Studzieniec in search of authentic emotions, which invariably led to her subjects’ difficult childhoods that had conditioned their lives. In summary, she said:
At the back of their minds, there was always an unhappy, bullied, damaged child.
The above photograph was taken at a birthday party. When the photographer noticed the symmetrically arranged curtains and asked the boys to move two chairs out of the way at the front, they all knew which picture it reminded her of. ‘Hey, losers! Cuddle up to Jesus!’ said the boy in the middle, a second before disco-polo music blared out of the speakers.
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.