‘I am weary of humanity and its behaviour’, said this multiple-award-winning photographer, who created his own view of the end of the world as we know it.
For twenty years, Kowalski photographed Poland from a paraglider. His pictures from that unique perspective delighted many people and ensured him an array of awards, including three at World Press Photo. At one point, however, they became predictable to him, and he felt that the form had been exhausted. Consequently, he produced this series, writing:
This is a project about the emotions I experienced when I had no idea what I was flying for; when I felt empty and afraid, sensing the inevitable end […] when I was alone with myself.
Kowalski flew lower than usual – at a height of 150 metres, roughly the equivalent of the fiftieth floor. This enabled him to observe human activity in a broader context and avoid taking photographs that were too abstract, like from a plane or a satellite.
In his pictures, most traces of human activity are covered by snow. In the text to accompany the works, he states that they may be seen as a dystopian vision of the world following a volcanic eruption or a hurricane.
The photographer went in search of undiscovered places, flying his paraglider in difficult wintry conditions, never wondering what he was photographing, and working as if in a trance:
Shapes loomed up at me out of the fog and I photographed them in order to collect them, like butterflies in a net. Only later did I consider what exactly I had captured during that mad rush.
When he tired of aerial photography, Kowalski decided, as he put it, ‘to come back down to earth’. He said his symbolic farewells with landscapes of felled trees, metal constructions, and soil emerging from beneath the snow, as if to herald the arrival of the new.
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.