One of the emerging artists exhibiting in the London College of Communications Photography MA show, Gabriela Mazowiecka's Letting Go investigates Polish levels of trust
From the year 2000 until now, social psychologist Janusz Czapiński has undertaken an annual survey recording quality of life in Poland. From analysing the results, he’s concluded that Poles have an unusually low level of trust – some of the lowest levels in Europe. It’s something he’s put down to “pathological individualism”, the fact that individualism is taught and encouraged from an early age.
On reading about this study, Polish photographer Gabriela Mazowiecka decided to investigate, “subconsciously hoping to negate the results”. She asked pairs of people to perform the ‘trust fall’, in which one falls backwards into the (hopefully) outstretched arms of the other, and shot them mid-action; ostensibly a measure of the subjects’ trust in each other, the project also explored their level of trust in her.
“I observed that men are less scared to perform the ‘trust fall’ than women, who want to test the ‘trust fall’ before allowing me to take photos,” says Mazowiecka (who didn’t allow them to do these practice-runs). “Women attempt to control the situation more than men because they feel self-conscious.”
Mazowiecka worked with more than 30 Poles, some drawn from her family and friends, shooting them both outside and indoors in their homes. For the final series, Letting Go, she decided to use the outside images only, as “this is not a space we are used to seeing a ‘trust fall’ in”.
“I also associate the dark, nocturnal environment with putting my subjects under harsher conditions to perform the ‘trust fall’,” she adds. “As visibility is lower, and participants only really see each other when the flashlight is being triggered.”
Mazowiecka was inspired to show the images in black-and-white because of a shot by William Eggleston – the American photographer best-known for his colour work. “It’s a mid-1970s portrait of Marcia Hare at a nightclub,” she says. “She’s shot against a black background, which gives the image a nocturnal feel, and the contrast strengthens the subject’s presence.”
Mazowiecka says her series might reveal the lack of trust identified by Czapiński, but hopes to continue working on the issue to find out more – both by herself and with Polish sociologist, Piotr Sztompka, who is known for his theory of Social Trust.
She also hopes to set up a collective with Rosie Holtom and Stephen Rusk, two fellow students from the Photography MA at the London College of Communication, which she has just finished. Letting Go is her final project from the MA, and it’s currently on show alongside work by Holtom, Rusk and the 28 other students in the LCC MA Photography Final Exhibition.