In 2015, when Poland’s most radical right-wing organisation, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, won the general election with a sweeping majority, photographer Joanna Wzorek and her liberal parents were shocked. Policies against immigration, same-sex marriage, and abortion just a few of the controversial views now channelled by Poland’s ruling party.
“Me and my parents felt deeply disrespected by the other side of our family, who voted right-wing,” says Wzorek, a Polish-born photographer who graduated from UAL last year with a degree in fashion photography. “I knew then I had to try and make something positive out of the negative nationalist standpoint that had dispersed within my country,” she explains.
“Eastern and Central Europe has a lot of treasure in its photographic histories,” says Kate Bush, speaking about the exhibition she has curated for Calvert 22, Family Values: Polish Photography Now. It’s the first exhibition in the UK to focus exclusively on Polish photography and, says Bush, “hopefully, it will all be part of feeding a greater understanding and interest”. Family Values is part of Calvert 22’s mission to show the cultural and societal change in eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asia through photography, and Bush – who is adjunct curator of photography at Tate Britain – was commissioned by the gallery for the project shortly after the EU referendum. She sees the exhibition as an opportunity to celebrate London’s Polish community, the largest outside of Poland, as well as commemorating the centenary of Poland’s independence.
Laia Abril is no stranger to themes of distress. Bulimia, coping with the death of a child, the asexual community, virtual sex-performer couples – these are all topics that the Barcelona-based photographer has explored and attempted to demystify with her multi-layered, story-based practice. The subjects she tackles are complex and provocative, but ones she is able to connect with by way of female empathy, “where I can be involved emotionally”, she says.
Born in 1991, Polish photographer Karol Palka is currently working on a PhD at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, which he hopes to finish in 2021. His series Edifice documents communist-era buildings in Poland and neighbouring Eastern Bloc countries. It includes shots of the Polana Hotel, once owned by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and the former office building for the management of the Nowa Huta Steelworks, which was once visited by Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro.
This year marked the 100th anniversary to the October Revolution; the Bolshevik coup lead by Vladamir Lenin that would result in the Russian Civil War (1917-22) and, ultimately, the foundation of the USSR and the communist regime that lasted until 1991. In the BJP’s latest issue, we try to understand something of the vast history of the Eastern Bloc.
“Neverland came via my participation in the Wrzesnia Collection, a long-term photography project and ongoing photographic residency which is creating an ever-growing photo archive on the Wrzesnia Town and Commune. Every year, the Mayor of Wrzesnia Town and Commune invites one photographer, selected by the curator, to spend some time in the town creating a personal series of images that illustrates the district and its inhabitants. I had a very open brief, it was completely up to me how to portray the place. It’s an extraordinary little city, but it also seems very boring and calm on the face of it. I had to work like a journalist, cooperating with the local newspaper and researching every local event, initiative, meeting or story that could be interesting. All these events were an opportunity to meet the people, to spend some time with the community,” says Polish photographer Adam Lach
“I could picture myself as this little girl. The photograph has a reminder of the escape into a childish world, full of power and imagination and carelessness. You would not lie down next to the buffet during the party as an adult unless you are not sober.” Natalia Poniatowska’s entry to the BJP Breakthrough Awards 2017 is an outtake from a wedding renewal ceremony, which was taken quite by accident whilst the photographer was looking at lighting in the room. The image shows loneliness but also the power of children’s imagination.
When Krakow’s Museum of Contemporary Art asked Anna Orłowska and Mateusz Choróbski to create a story themed ‘art market’ for its Forum magazine, the pair turned to a bustling street fair in the small town of Radomsko. “We had two weeks to think of an idea and realise it,” says Choróbski. “We visited the market a few times, bought objects we thought would work, and then photographed them in different configurations. We usually work on projects for a long time, so it was both refreshing and challenging to do this in such a short period.” The idea behind Tribute to Moda Polska (which translates as ‘Polish fashion’) was to transform ordinary items into art objects, says Orłowska, who featured in BJP’s June 2013 issue. “This ironic gesture was made to reflect on the value of contemporary art,” explains the 29-year-old, who studied at the national film school in Łodz. “Where is the line between market kitsch and objects of aesthetic value?” The series is also “a tribute to important places in Polish towns and cities”, comments Choróbski, an …
It is one of those sweltering, sunny days in Warsaw – Poland is surprisingly hot in the summer, the polar opposite of the severely depressing, minus-degree winter. I’m meeting up with members of the photography collective Sputnik, which specialises in similar contradictions. Like its namesake, it’s a small blip in space in the grand scheme of things, but it manages to transmit around the globe. Focusing on substantial social, cultural, political and economic dispatches from Eastern Europe and the countries that were, until relatively recently, satellites of the USSR, its work speaks of the complexities of the exciting – and traumatic – transformation from communism to capitalism, and the ways in which these countries struggle with their newfound identities. There are nine photographers in Sputnik – Andrej Balco, Manca Juvan, Andrei Liankevich, Michal Luczak, Justyna Mielnikiewicz, Rafal Milach, Agnieszka Rayss, Adam Pańczuk and Jan Brykczyński – and I am joined by the last four, all based in Warsaw. My first impression is that they are a focused and diligent group of serious-minded, smart individuals, but …