The volume comprises twenty-five black and white photographs, arranged in a minimalist and yet deliberative way – usually a photo per spread – that directs attention to the tensions organising individual images. That which determines the power of the project at first sight seems to be hidden – the formally careful, but nevertheless moderate grasp of the complexity of family and human relations. The photographs themselves seduce with their immaculate craft, excellent, unobvious compositions and mise-en-scène. The apparently simple, casual pictures soon reveal the surgical precision of the staged situation, orchestrated lighting, and charged gestures.
Piotrowska stages, directs, and recycles situations, both psychologically difficult and quite banal, that take place in the everyday life of a multi-generational family. The titular 'frowst' refers to the relations within a household. Page by page, the photographer studies and analyses gestures, thus formulating a visual narrative that resembles a drama or a psychological film. FROWST is a specific type of book about stuffy emotions: a book in which photography is dictated by a consistent artistic vision. The narrative is constructed of repetitions and shifting motifs. We recognise individual persons, figure out the characters, follow the stares, sense the relations and differences that obstruct human connections. Photo after photo, an intriguing and ambiguous tale about coming of age and self-exploration emerges.
The artist's work process and the way she directs the photographed scenes sometimes resembles documentations of performative and paratheatrical actions, but it most of all brings to mind therapeutic practices, especially Hellinger's constellations, participants of which assume the roles of strangers, ancestors, or even groups of people, but at the same time transmit their authentic emotions and traumas in order to recreate and comprehend the nature of a family system.
As the designer of these situations, Piotrowska remains the main, invisible protagonist of the book. Even though the scenes are enacted by third parties, they all happen at her request. The actors are not so much set up as orchestrated, arranged as live paintings, along with careful consideration of the costume details. In this way, the photographer highlights the importance of form in building relations; a form that constantly refers to art iconography, performance, and choreography. Tension that normally appears in therapies is alleviated by an aesthetic spleen accompanying the classic, black and white shots.
FROWST is concluded by a sentence known from feature films: “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.” It is definitely the realm of contemporary art, rather than photography that acts as a natural reference point for this outstanding project. Photography, which takes here a form that is far from documentary, serves the formation of a thought-out and full-bodied work bordering on psychology, choreography, performance, and post-conceptual practices. The style developed by the artist is an intriguing combination of the formal lingua franca of contemporary art with a local idiom. Piotrowska has managed to creatively universalise the experience of life and upbringing in a regular Polish home. The colophon includes a poignant dedication from the author: “To my mother, without whom this book wouldn't be possible.”
The publication of FROWST was an award which Piotrowska, a graduate of the Royal College of Arts in London, received upon winning the international First Book Award competition, organised by National Media Museum in Bradford and the British publishing house MACK. This is a significant fact. The artist belongs to the first generation in decades which is able to freely travel, study, and work creatively in the so-called, up until recently still mythical, West.
photographs: Joanna Piotrowska
graphic design: Joanna Piotrowska, Gregoire Pujade-Lauraine
publisher: MACK, London
year of publication: 2014
volume: 48 pages
format: 23.5 cm x 26.5 cm
cover: hardcover, coated
print run: 2000
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com
, transl. Ania Micińska, October 2015