Maciej Jeziorek tells the story of three leprosy rehabilitation centres in India led by Polish missionaries. Through the Glass is a photo album in which photography plays a secondary role – it is not the images that are important, but the stories that hide within them.
The co-founder of the Napo Images agency went to India for the first time in 2008, wandering for six months and searching for answers regarding himself and his profession.
Travelling is a part of photography. After all, it all started with showing different cultures, people, and landscapes, documented by a photographer elsewhere and brought back on negatives. When we take photographs, we also take an internal journey. We react with the camera to what happens within us, moves, captivates, but also irritates, or even infuriates us.
– he said in an interview for Świat Obrazu.
Jeziorek made seven trips over the course of four years and walked twenty-six thousand kilometres to bring home two photographic projects*. One of them is a record of contemporary India. Endless crowds in the streets, colours, contrasts, nature, heat, and beat of the country's life. These fall under the collection titled Streets of India. As should be the case with an experienced photographer, the pictures match the theme perfectly in their dynamism, multi-plane compositions, and exquisitely captured light.
The second set includes much more space and solitude. The project Through the Glass, created in 2009-2010, is India frozen in time, belonging to the past, but nevertheless timeless. It is the direct opposite of contemporary travel photography: a professionally, meticulously constructed book-story, in which the photographs are paradoxically pushed to the background. The photos were taken in Ramgarh, Puri, and Jeevodaya in north-eastern India, at Polish missionaries' (both religious and secular) work locations. There is a leprosy rehabilitation centre in each of these towns, containing, apart from hospitals for people suffering from the disease, as well as schools, churches, and small factories.
The bilingual (Polish and English) hardcover album comprises one hundred and twenty pages bound in linen. It opens with a map of India with marked locations of the centres, and a short description of each. It contains thirty-nine black and white photographs. The album is centered around a conversation with Helena Pyz – the chief consultant of Jeevodaya, who has worked in India for over twenty-five years. Jeziorek doesn't ask questions as a journalist, but as a human being, out of simple curiosity, but also with human understanding and empathy.
What is leprosy?
How does one get infected?
Is leprosy curable?
What is the cost of medicine?
These are practical questions, which could be easily answered with help of the internet, however it is much better to hear them first hand. After the first round of questions, Jeziorek turns to the interviewee:
It was an impulse, you arrived here. What happened next?
The conversation departs from the technical facts related to the possibility of infection and the doctor's work. They get into the otherwise avoided topics, like the problem of marriage between lepers, or the difficulties with sending their children to schools. One of the excerpts from the conversation inspired the book's title:
He just looks at him like through the glass. He can't see or hear. That's what it's about. It is unimaginable. The lepers are imperceptible. Invisible.
The doctor's tale is concluded with a short text by Father Marcin Iżycki, who states in the final paragraph:
The problem of leprosy in the 21st century, of a disease that should have long ago become just part of the history of medicine, is a great scandal and accusation. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who supports the missionaries in their service for the lepers, as well as the missionaries who devote their skills, knowledge, time, life, and most of all their love, to the diseased.
Jeziorek selected and edited the photographs in collaboration with Maciek Nabrdalik and Adam Lach. The arrangement is virtually ideal. The cover photo shows a hand of a little girl, drawing an outline of a silhouette on the sand. A few ambiguous photographs at the beginning act as an introduction to the reality of the leper camps in India. One will find men combing their hair in front of a mirror, girls dancing in an empty school room, a man rolling up clean bandages, and animals accompanying the residents of the centres. Each page with a photograph is followed by a white sheet stating the name of the town in which it was taken. A picture, a breath, a picture, another breath.
Through the Glass does not overwhelm with the physical suffering which is normally associated with leprosy. Maciej Jeziorek's photographs are about ordinary life, even if it is life tainted by rejection, about social ostracism, and existing in a niche and a void.
The album's layout, designed by Kasia Kubicka, reflects the problems raised in the interview with Helena Pyz. It offers room for reflection over the problem of leprosy, as well as a lot of solitude that haunts the lepers.
One hundred and twenty pages, thirty-nine photographs, one conversation, three rehabilitation centres, and several thousand human stories behind them.
* Maciej Jeziorek returned from India with several project, two of which (Streets of India and Through the Glass) have been made public thus far. The next part of the photographer's work from India will be contained in the book 300 Days to Mars, to premiere later in 2015.
Sources: own materials, www.maciejjeziorek.com, Napo Images, Świat Obrazu, ed. D.S., 30.07.2015., transl. Ania Micińska, August 2015