Stigma is a story about a sixty-person Roma family living in Psie Pole, a district of Wrocław.
Looking worldwide, a few important photographic works concerning Roma have been created. The most iconic of these works is Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies. The Roma Journeys, which Joakim Eskildsen completed in 2007, are also worth mentioning. Polish authors have also commented on the Roma. Tomasz Tomaszewski travelled to a few countries to meet his heroes and eventually he concluded his series Gypsies / Cyganie with a sentence stating that Europeans still haven’t done their tolerance homework. Piotr Wójcik, a photographer involved with Gazeta Wyborcza, published an album consisting of portraits of Polish Roma and reportorial photographs from a few countries. Ryszard Kapuściński wrote the following about Wójcik’s pictures:
Piotr Wójcik achieved what most reporters don’t achieve – a Gypsy community accepted him as one of them, opened up its homes for him, inviting him to its tables.
Adam Lach, the author of the publication Stigma, followed a path similar to that of Wójcik. At first Lach also used to visit his heroes to obtain materials for press publications, after some time, when he got his heroes’ trust, he decided to give those people more attention. The photographs of Roma appeared in the weekly Polityka, the material was distinguished at the Picture of the Year International competition, and the exhibition of these works was awarded at the festival Fotofestiwal.
The expressions, which Kapuściński used in the context of Wójcik’s work, come back after many years in regard to Lach. The written and photo reporter Filip Springer and photojournalist Mariusz Forecki commented on Lach’s book in their texts, unafraid to use big words about getting close with a hero, getting trust, sawing doubt in the viewer and temporarily depriving the viewer of comfort. Does Lach limit himself to acquainting a group of excluded persons? Surely not.
Adam Lach photographed a sixty-person Roma family living in Psie Pole, a district of Wrocław. He showed a part of their space – an encampment with temporary barracks constructed from whatever they found. The narration flows through two channels: the pictures are accompanied by the stories of the inhabitants of this place, which were written down by Katarzyna Dybowska.
The statements written down and chosen by her are devoid of an authorial style and embellishments. The stories of her interlocutors concern basic issues – home and family. The identities of the story-tellers aren’t revealed; we can’t match a given statement with a face presented in the pictures. Mendra, the authors’ guide, whose statement may be found in the epilogue, is the exception. She thinks about the future and she seems to be the most reflective inhabitant of this place.
The author admits that he draws inspiration from the works of Larry Towell, a member of the Magnum agency, who portrayed Mennonites, Christian protestants living amongst others in Mexico. The master’s photographs are black and white and one may see in them the enormous amount of time devoted to the heroes. Towell recorded border moments – childbirths, funerals – to which he gave clear, balanced forms. Another lead that, according to Lach, may be useful in the reading of Stigma is the narration used by Mike Leigh in the director’s newest movies: a seemingly tame theme, in which one may sense nervousness beneath the surface.
Lach proposes colour photographs with clear, warm dominant elements. There is room here for portraits, still lives, everyday situations, and humorous/scary presentations (a child in a bag from IKEA). Every few pages the relatively calm picture story is distorted by a typically reportorial photograph which is disturbing but also very informative. For example a man holding a rat, or a group of people carrying a crying boy. The mixed aesthetics can hinder reception but Lach admits that:
A few of the reportorial photos are to overwhelm, disturb. It’s a dense, uncomfortable place, in this book there can’t be too much room, comfort.
Inside one can find centrefolds showing the temporary architecture photographed from the inside and from the outside. The cover, in which scraps of materials overlap, also refers to the quickly constructed barracks. Because of their simple illustrative quality, these devices look kind of caricatural. The large amount of addressed issues and used styles complicates the reception of this work. The authors decided to formally densify their work, which is to reflect the situation from the encampment. I’m not entirely sure whether this reference was conveyed or whether one may only try to explain it.
The story told in Stigma ends suddenly, like a work by Mike Leigh. What’s the point? What will we remember from these subtleties? What stays in mind are the sad persons or the muscle-flexing teenager in the photographs. The time shared at home and outside of home. The birth of a child, the subsequent moves. Ordinariness. This family is governed by the same emotions as every other family, therefore we’re looking at ourselves. The catch of this work is revealing its heroes as people who deserve compassion. Lach doesn’t try to record the attractive dissimilarity. He uses well-known words and looks for shared elements, which he finds.
108 pages, hard cover
Entire edition: 600 copies (350 copies in English, 250 copies in Polish)
Publisher: Adam Lach
Authors: Adam Lach and Katarzyna Dybowska
Edition of photographs: Filip Ćwik, Ewa Meissner, Mateusz Sarełło, Adam Lach
Launch date: June 2014
Author: Michał Dąbrowski, August 2014, translated by: Marek Kępa