The seemingly straightforward task that the author set for herself – to find and photograph other women who go by the name of Renata Dąbrowska – contains a deeply transgressive element of searching for her alter egos. Most of all, however, its enigmatic cover hides incredible material with surprising cognitive potential. In three years, the author created one hundred portraits of women called Renata Dąbrowska. These photographs are characterized by respect for the sitters, and their interest in other persons. Dąbrowska escapes conventional photographic typology and does not make her models pose in any particular manner, but allows them to present themselves in whatever way feels comfortable to them: inside or in front of their houses, at work, with their children. Each picture is accompanied by a very minimal metric description of a given protagonist: first name, surname, date and place of birth, profession, place of residence.
An inquiry into one's own identity turned into an engaging portrait study of contemporary Polish women, particularly suggestive due to being based on arbitrary and, as it were, statistical criterion of the commonality of first and last names, and yet free of any ideological or artistic preliminary assumptions. Poles and Poland appear to be extremely ordinary and natural, mediocre, which could be read both as a conclusion and a specific asset of the project.
The photographic method assumed by Dąbrowska is a reference to the way in which Zofia Rydet created her Sociological Record. The wide shot photographs expose a large piece of Poland behind their protagonists. Drawing on her experience as a photojournalist, the author describes the women and their worlds. These portraits transcend the limits of their category, some of them are practically genre scenes, while all of them provide an insight into the specific fabric of material culture that permeates the natural living environment of the contemporary Renata Dąbrowskas. Contrary to Rydet's total, but never finished, opus, the Gdańsk-based photographer manages to create an aptly directed whole.
Dąbrowska's project combined elements of documentary, identity studies, and post-conceptualism, and at the same time became an intense life experience for her. This explains the idea to include an appendix at the end of the book – printed on a different type of paper, it is a photographed notebook which the author used for documenting the process of searching for, discovering, and getting to know all the women, and arranging the photoshoots with them. This part could be treated as an unnecessary addition, however, it doesn't undermine the value of the album as a whole, which is positively one of the most interesting contemporary endeavours marrying photographic documents and artistic typology. Paradoxically, when trying to paint a portrait of herself, Dąbrowska created a poignant image of a modern Polish everywoman that is far from the stereotypical media representations.
photographs: Renata Dąbrowska
texts: Renata Dąbrowska, Jakub Knera, Grzegorz Przyborek
graphic design: Dawid Błażewicz (cover)
publisher: Renata Dąbrowska, Gdańsk
year of publication: 2012
volume: 230 pages
format: 20.6 x 30.3 cm
cover: hard cover, coated
print run: 1000
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com, transl. Ania Micińska, June 2015