In 2005, Filip Ćwik photographed poverty-stricken places for Newsweek.
In Niebieszczany near Sanok, the photographer took shots of a large family living in a century-old house, heated only by a kitchen stove. Teresa and her two children suffer from cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disorder that attacks the respiratory and digestive systems. Eight people live in a single house on a paltry income that is insufficient to cover their medical bills. This tragedy is compounded by the fact that their medicines are not refundable through the Polish national health service.
In the photograph, we see Teresa holding her son Sylwester. The boy is crying and squirming out of his mother’s arms. Our attention is drawn by her hands in the centre of the frame. Ćwik has captured a dual struggle: mother and child, and family with reality.
According to a UNICEF report from 2005, it transpired that almost one in eight children were living in poverty, while one in three were undernourished. The majority (85%) of Poles stated that they found it hard to make ends meet, and over half (52.5%) were three months or more in arrears with their rent. In the countryside, 18.5% of people were living below the poverty line. In Poland, a third generation of children was growing up in poverty inherited from their parents. One reason for many people’s tough financial situation was the liquidation of state collective farms in 1991.
Well-known examples of photographs on the theme of poverty are those commissioned by the US Farm Security Administration programme in 1935–1944, such as famous pictures by Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange. Interestingly enough, the FSA’s chief aim was to assist farmers by buying up their economically unviable land and resettling them on state-owned group farms.
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.