This photograph by Michał Szlaga comes from a series of spontaneous shots which interlock to form a bittersweet picture of Poland.
‘I love Poland’, says Michał Szlaga, who has posted travel photographs to his blog for over a decade. After graduation, he had hoped to earn a living from art, but later admitted that, as it turned out, there was no real market for it in Poland. In the end, he started working for newspapers, for which he took frequent trips around the country.
His photography gave us behind-the-scenes shots of politicians, views from car windows, and couples kissing at parties. Szlaga took photos spontaneously and, since he never restricted himself to key moments, was able to capture a wealth of random detail. The works shared on his blog have a lo-fi aesthetic, since they were taken on a compact Olympus Mju-II analogue camera.
During one of his journeys, he photographed a man staring out of a train window. He is dishevelled, with a discreet moustache and a checked shirt tucked into his trousers. In an interview for Wysokie Obcasy, when asked what kind of things he had seen while travelling around Poland, Szlaga replied:
Normal, often happy people. Poland looks great from train and car windows. You sit comfortably, like on a sofa in front of the TV, and a show unfolds before your eyes.
Some of the comments on his photographs pointed out that he had depicted an ‘awfully trashy reality’ (Wysokie Obcasy) or ‘faux-folk, kitsch, and even vulgarity’ (Polityka). He described his approach as follows:
Documentary photography needs to include kissing couples and hooligans fighting. I’m not the kind of photographer whose shots of old ladies in headscarves always make them look sweet. I probably haven’t even got any photos of old ladies.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 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.