The photographer captured the emotions of people gathered on Warsaw’s Krakowskie Przedmieście after hearing the news of the plane crash in Smolensk. His pictures won a third prize in the 2011 World Press Photo contest.
Filip Ćwik took a series of black-and-white photographs over an eight-day period. The photographer depicted people who had gathered in front of the Presidential Palace to mourn the Smolensk plane crash victims.
Back then, I felt a strong sense of community with those people, which certainly helped me understand their grief and find genuine emotions in that sorrowful crowd.
The photographer used an analogue camera, shooting twelve rolls of film, or around 430 pictures, most of which were portraits. Ćwik only ever took a single photo of each person, leaving the results to chance.
Ćwik’s grainy, high-contrast photographs show the faces of people he met, illuminated by an external flash. This trick helped him extract his subjects from their surroundings, highlighting their expressions and focusing on personal grief. In form, the photographs remind me of the work of Bruce Gilden, an American member of the Magnum Photos agency, who surprised passers-by in New York in a similar way for his NYC series.
In an interview, after winning his World Press Photo award, Filip Ćwik recalled the atmosphere of April 2010:
When I took those pictures, the people on Krakowskie Przedmieście were still undivided by political viewpoints. There was a kind of unity in grief back then. I think the award was for the universality of my images, which were far removed from the turmoil of Polish politics.
National Mourning by Filip Cwik
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018