42-200 identity/ people/ places
I spent the twelve months of 2022, supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, working on a photo-document concerning place, people, past and present. Through people’s profiles, through personal histories interwoven with the history of my town, I wanted to create a multidimensional account of identity, both individual and more broadly, emerging from a sense of belonging and of a common fate.
This is a personal journey toward symbol, into familiar landscapes – a street, a district, suburbs and centre, people close to me and strangers with whom I’ve shared a common place of life.
A few years ago, my cousin Maciek turned up, asking me to look after his family photo albums. He never returned for them. He swallowed a bottle of pills and took his final walk along the Warta river. I didn’t manage to take his photo in time…
And the same goes for Jacek, a local boy, the most sensitive lad I’ve ever known. He wasn’t a close friend. He used to come by when his father was drunk. Sometimes it was so bad, he said, that he and his mother had to sleep in the closet.
So many people I’d have liked to photograph are gone.
42-200 is a project in which I recount my place of birth, my street, my nearest and dearest, my friends, acquaintances. Those I am in awe of, those who inspire me and to whom I owe so much. It is also the story of strangers I pass on the city streets and into whose faces I gaze with unceasing fascination.
I’d like to arrest this life that passes by so casually, to photograph and somehow salvage it for, as Roland Barthes wrote, it can never repeat itself existentially.
I don’t remember the smell of my grandfather’s bakery; he stopped baking bread before I was born. We lived on the ground floor in the rooms the bakery had occupied; upstairs were the tenants assigned quarters after the war. A family with children in every room, with water and a toilet outside. The last tenant was Mr Edek; in 2002 he moved out of the small space in the attic where he’d lived with his concubine, Irena, and his cat. After all these years, after all these lives, there remained a heap of unwanted objects which, for some unknown reason, had never made it to the trash. Last things, too insignificant to be called souvenirs, mutilated, they had lost their function long ago.
From the place beyond the river where I live, the bells of Jasna Góra can be heard and the trains going by. At the beginning of the twentieth century, workers from the nearby Stradom factories built their little houses here. The terrain was marshy, the climate malarial, the land cheap.
I probably wanted to leave here once, in a few years’ time supposedly, next year, or the year after, and yet I stayed. As though my place of residence had been chosen for me by grandfather Staś and grandma Marta. They were both incomers, he from Podstole in Piotrków county and she from Szadek, near Łódź. I don’t know much about grandfather’s family; granny had a stormy history. Her great-grandfather, Franciszek, took part in the November uprising (and was in hiding for years afterwards) and grandfather Józef owned a tenement house in Łęczyca and 120 morgens of land, which he parcelled out gradually among his numerous offspring. One of his ten children was the blind Szymon, the father of my grandmother. He sent granny and her two sisters, with a small dowry, off to family in Częstochowa.
The town of a holy spire, with a single tram line, a town of two towns put together, a holy town, a good town, the spiritual capital of Poland, ‘medal-makers’, Częstochowa rhymes. Poświatowska called it grey and provincial and a contemporary poet named it Smalltown.
The 42-200 series comprises photographs above all, but also conversations interwoven with the personal stories of friends and strangers. Such as that of Halina, whose mother gave birth to her as a forced labourer on a German cabbage field. During the birth, her leg was dislocated, which was why she limped her whole life long. One of her neighbours used to call her ‘ruthless’, but Halina would always repeat to herself: ‘I have to live, to live and live’.
It’s the story of Rajmund at number seven, a ballroom dancer in a group of seniors. Of Mr Józef, who for fourteen years has been waiting at the homeless shelter for a communal apartment. Or 22-year-old Mateusz who’s had his life’s motto tattooed on his torso: ‘It’s all good.’
translation by Anna Zaranko
Realized under the scholarship of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.