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