Last time I spoke to Polish photographer Rafal Milach, he told me that protesting the alarmingly fast political changes brought about by the PiS (Law and Justice) government felt like his new hobby. And he reiterates this today, speaking of the “permanent state of demonstration”. In summer 2016, he was invited to participate within the Kolekcja Września residency programme, which each year selects a photographer to produce a body of work reflecting on town life. Milach and his Sputnik colleagues have been amassing an archive of found and newly shot photographs from the post-communist Eastern Bloc for their Lost Territories projects, so he was naturally drawn to the town’s historical material. He was also aware of a children’s protest that had taken place there at the turn of the 20th century, when western Poland was under German occupation.
As Moldova proclaimed its independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union, a 400km stretch of territory wedged between its border with Ukraine also declared itself a separate entity. With its own flag, parliament and currency, Transnistria has all the apparatus of being a nation yet it is only officially acknowledged as an independent state by three other republics, all of them also with limited recognition. Born at the same time as this new state, in 1990, Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova are first generation Transnistrians whose work is dedicated to visualising life in the region, believing that photography plays a crucial role in affirming their homeland’s identity.
The September issue brings the otherwise invisible into sharp focus. Invisible World explores forgotten conflicts, intimate retreats, abused landscapes and remote islands to uncover the hidden realities and unknown societies behind ordinary backdrops. “As social beings, we all demand to be seen,” says Hoda Afshar, whose latest series, Behold, takes us to an exclusive male-only bathhouse. Her point resonates with all the photoseries explored in this issue: how do we negotiate our surroundings, how do we see our societies, how do we interpret our world? We need to first see the invisible to answer these ever salient questions.