For the last few years, the Polish photographic scene has been incredibly active. We already know the Sputnik Collective or Mateusz Sarello amongst many, and now is coming Patryk Karbowski with his beautiful book Halfway.
The emergence of a new generation after totalitarianism years is often very productive, like it has been in Spain after Franco, or in Turkey recently. Patryk Karbowski was born in 1989, the year when the « Eastern wall » fell apart, so metaphorically, Halfway could be read as the story of his life (a topic he has already worked on in his series The New Poles) : he genetically comes from the old world and lives in the new one. The beauty of the title is that it can have a different meaning depending on the reader. You can always consider the glass half full or half empty and this is the purpose here : the place depicted is geographically halfway between mountains and sea, halfway between a poor or rich place, halfway between the delusion of communism and the promises of capitalism, halfway between a past industrial glory and an uncertain new technological hoped glory. Every time you read this book, you can choose between nostalgia for the past or hope for the future, between the family memories which have been told to Patryk by his parents or grandparents and his own expectations in his future !
Well, the book is like visiting a friend living there. You are immersed in the local populations intimacy. You start with a walk beside the river with the high bicolored chimney of the old factory in the background, reminding the presence of the town and the industrial decay. You listen to explanations in front of the panel explaining the new urban planning strategies and when you walk through the town, you’re impressed by the renewal of buildings which are not grey such as you thought according to the Eastern imagery you had in mind. The European funds have helped the renovation and restructuring of the town. The friend you visit shows you proudly those new estates to rent, or the new high tech offices. You meet people in public places, but they don’t even care of you, all at the concentration of their activities, talking with someone or staring at something you don’t see ! Everyone seems to enjoy this new life !
But despite the fast development, the marks of the old life still outcrop : an old wooden decayed church beside the brand-new one, an old factory behind a bus stop or, a lonely girl on a stage, who is maybe dreaming of escaping for a brighter place.
Or the photo of teenagers in a room, all looking at screens, with sadness on their faces like if they were watching together a broadcasting of the local football team defeated. Such as the protagonists of a meeting, caught « in between » of a so called conference, each of them totally isolated in their own world at the tribune.
Many people are photographed alone in the second part of the book. It seems that the photographer tells us that the community activities that were celebrate in the first part don’t really succeed for the whole population. There are people left at the margins, a woman sitting with her phone in front of kitch photos, a TV screen showing news, a teengager sitting alone in the street with a music player and headphones.
And we finally arrived in what seems to be the suburbs of the town with people queuing in front of a kiosk in front of a social housing estate. The last view of the book shows building in the background of a meadow, « halfway » between the countryside and the town, well, between the immemorial « nature versus culture »…
One of the quality of Patryk Karbowski is to avoid the anecdotal. There are no artificial effects in his photographs. He never catch the climax of a situation but the tense of the instant before or after, which emphasizes the reality. We do not discover instants of life but the life itself with its thickness. By choosing to focus on so many daily gestures, Patryk frees our imagination to build the background which is already present in the moments captured (like the bride on her way to the ceremony).
I am really pleased that this work has shown me Poland without any prejudice. I won’t say that I know Poland now, but at least, I know it better than before, particularly this town whose I don’t even know the name !
Halfway is a hardcover handmade book published in 2015 by Instytut Kultury Wizualnej, 24 x 29 cm, 76 pages and 34 color photos, print run 500.