Artist Marek Wykowski Captures Poland's Desolate Industrial Zone

Photo of Ewa Zubek
Vp Social20 October 2016

Near-forgotten neighborhoods, lonely figures, relics from the past – in his Silesian Ballad series, Polish photographer Marek Wykowski explores an area of Europe that belongs to a different era – an era where Poland’s mining industry was in full bloom. A sense of secrecy, thought-provoking emptiness and underlying gravitas permeate his work. We speak to Wykowski about Silesian Ballad (pictured), life and philosophy.

How did you being your career as an artist?

MW: I started photographing some 10 years ago, without prior education so it took some time to figure things out. I am a landscape photographer who got fascinated by portraiture, so I always look at the landscape first and then try to place a person in it.

What do you care about the most when taking photographs?

When I take photographs I have the conceptual work already done, so I only care about technical execution. As John Szarkowski once said: ‘The hard part isn’t the decisive moment or anything like that—it’s getting the film on the reel.’

Tell us about the Silesian Ballad series.

I was born in Krakow, 100km from the Upper Silesia industrial area. My mother is from Silesia, so we used to go there to meet our family from time to time. As a child I was always fascinated by this strange and so different world that was nowhere else to find. This place has a great lyrical appeal to me.

How would you describe the current photography landscape in Poland?

I do not know much about Polish photography. From what I can see the majority of the photography scene in Poland concentrates on photojournalism and likes. If you want to do some conceptual work then you will probably be better off in London or NYC. The only name that comes to my mind is Anna Ostoya who has been included in the MoMA New Photography show two years ago. Although I guess there must be some other talented artists in Poland, it’s just that they get little exposure in the media.

Tell us your favourite book (and it doesn’t have to be about photography!).

My favourite book is The Cinnamon Shops (Sklepy Cynamonowe) by Bruno Schulz although I do not think this book has been translated into any foreign language.

Is there a city, country or place that inspires you every time you’re there?

I would say Morocco is such a country. It’s so full of poetic stories and all is lit by the beautiful Saharan light.

What’s the single most valuable piece of advice you ever got?

Things are not either black or white, good or bad, true or false, right or wrong. There are hundreds shades of grey in between and all depends on the circumstances.

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