This photograph is taken from a book documenting a family of sixty Roma living in the Psie Pole district of Wrocław. It shows a fire started by their Polish neighbours in March 2012.
Adam Lach originally went to visit his subjects in search of material for a press publication. Once there, he decided to devote more time to them, and started work on his book. The photographs are accompanied by stories of the residents, interviewed by Katarzyna Dybowska, in which they talk of family relations, reminisce, and describe the hardships they face.
In this photograph, Lach shows part of the camp where his subjects live. In the centre of the frame, a boy is immortalised as he runs through burning grass. To his right, the field is charred black; to the left, the fire is just taking hold. The boy is sprinting towards apartment buildings, possibly for help. As he symbolically runs away from us, he leaves the burning camp behind him, along with the photographer who has allowed us to observe the scene. In the caption, Lach explains that the fire was started by their Polish neighbours.
By portraying this stigmatised group, the photographer, who grew up in Wrocław, was speaking up for the Roma, since many of them are illiterate. Lach’s reportage shot manages to capture the drama of the moment; the culmination of aggression. It describes the situation from the viewpoint of a solitary adolescent whose first reflex is to flee and save himself. The photographer does not pick a commercially viable shot, but shows that this family is ruled by the same emotions as any other.
Stigma won a Beata Pawlak Award, and works from the series were published in the New Yorker and New York Times.
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.