PKiN for Pałac Pałac i Nauki, the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, 231 meters hight, more than 120 000 square meters, 3288 rooms. Built between 1952 and 1955, designed by Russian architect Lev Rudnev, the building has been entirely funded by the Soviet Union as a gift from Stalin to the friendly country (his name was originally associated to the name of the building and has been removed during the destalinization period). It remains the highest building of Poland.
Considered the symbol of the Soviet domination, it was a question of destroying the building after 1989 and the decay of communism. Fortunately, it has, instead, been modernized and listed. It now hosts many important international renown events, and finally became the proud symbol of the city.
This building, now widely visited, remains, by its size, still largely unknown. Probably very few people can claim to know it in its entirety, and this is where the work of Jacek Fota drives us. For a year and a half, Jacek has surveyed the building from room to room, corridor to corridor, people to people. He has turned his camera to the back of the scenes, fascinated by corners, details, and everything that constitutes the depth of this gorgeous building which was already part of the collective memory. One already knows the pomp and splendor of the building, as one has already seen a previous image of a festival or a ceremony, but what Jacek Fota suggests in his book is neither more nor less than a walk with the house keeper, in the bowels of the Palace, with ghosts glimpsed in a corridor, or who appear in the thickness of a detail. A light that slides between two curtains ; handsets that we really wonder what they can be used for ; doors that we don’t know where they lead ; machineries ; or a kettle placed on a work plan featuring topless playmates. And also a few portraits of people who seem frozen in a bygone era, not knowing if they are real or not, but who testify the life of the building. There are similarities between them all, thus they form a large united « family ». They tell the unity of the place.
We get lost in this maze of corridors and rooms and we start to be afraid to not find our way back amongst the more than 3000 pieces. The photos are beautiful and perfectly served by a sober and elegant layout, alternating double pages and preserving breaths like when, at a crossing, you wonder which direction you will choose. The style of the photographs shows all along the predominance of the place. The few portraits that punctuate the visit are still distanced, with a game of scale that confronts the characters to their smallness facing the imposing building. Whatever their roles are, these « inhabitants » are still disproportionately dominated by the architecture. Through the pages, we also discover strange associations : an artificial palm tree that seems cramped in a technical room, strange animals facing satellite dishes on the opposite page. We sometimes have the impression of traveling through time and returning 60 years back.
The book ends with some testimonials from different people who used to work there in the palace which highlights the backstage organisation and the spirit of the place.
Hardcover book, green linen cover with an embossed « frog » plan of the PKiN, 235 x 296 mm, 112 pages, 70 color photographs, published in 2015 by Fundacja Centrum Architektury. Polish edition : 700 copies, English edition 430 copies, introduction by Agnieszka Rasmus-Zgorzelska.
More info : http://jacekfota.com/PKiN-1
And as a bonus, some extra photos of a selfpublished previous book published in 2014 : Some things are quieter than others. Avoiding the clichés, Jacek takes us through an American trip, a way to revisit the American dream…
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.