Maciej Pisuk’s series is an empathetic story of economic exclusion, the past recorded in faces, and the power of interpersonal relations.
Pisuk, a scriptwriter of films, series and television programmes, regards close contact with different strata of reality as his professional duty. He ended up in Warsaw’s Praga district in 2002, after becoming unemployed. In a text to accompany the photographs, Adam Mazur explained that Pisuk’s move to Brzeska Street was motivated by his financial situation, as it occurred at a difficult time for the artist. He added:
He hauled himself out of depression thanks to the people he met in Praga and his photography.
In an interview for Culture.pl, Pisuk recalled seeing people taking photos of Brzeska Street out of car windows, and photographers showing up with bodyguards. What struck him was their reluctance to enter into contact with the residents. Pisuk realised that poverty is picturesque, so he deemed photography itself to be morally ambiguous and requiring justification. He used his camera as an excuse to form relationships with people. Pisuk stressed that he only took pictures of people he knew well.
In his commentary to the project, he refers to Levinas and Tischner’s philosophy of dialogue, in which a key element is the face-to-face encounter with another person – the Other. The people he portrays fascinate him, since they ‘possess faces’ that are not hidden beneath masks. At the exhibition, Pisuk’s photographs were accompanied by his own comments designed to anchor his subjects in reality, not objectify them or reduce them to mere ‘signs, symbols or generalisations’.
Photographer admitted that he no longer believes images can change the world. A vital part of this project was the mutual process of getting to know and understand each other.
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.