RYSA [Scratch]

This is a story.
Based on situations that really happened.
The main charachter is my son Fryderyk.
His story is not extraordinary, but there is a secret in it.
I want to tell a story about this secret.
I want to tell it to him.


Beautiful anxiety...

Talking about photographs by Jakub Karwowski, the ones presented at 8. Photography
Biennial, at Scratch exhibition or the ones exhibited at the previous
cycles, we just have to call them “beautiful”. Not only is the artist not afraid of
the beauty of his photos, but he also celebrates them perfecting each detail,
saturating shots with colours and purifying them from unnecessary elements.
Jakub Karwowski is a young author (born in 1985), however, despite his
young age he is a very experienced photographer, since he started taking
photos as a young boy who did not even start attending a primary school. He
got his first camera from his father and took first picture during a trip to the
mountains. He used Smena camera then. One might say, it is typical, who did
not take photos during a trip to the mountains? Apparently, it was not a hobby
but much more. Jakub grew up in a house where the presence of photography
was very strong. His parents took non-professional photos, their quality was
higher than in the case of typical amateur photos. His mother made use of
a camera by Praktica taking photos during all family trips. His father taught him
how to work in a darkroom, which he had constructed especially for his son.
Therefore, his youthful passion developed towards professionalism. As a high
school student, Jakub Karwowski had already had a darkroom and known how
to use it. He took photos of his family city of Kraków, one of the most beautiful
Polish cities he resided in. Asked for his beginnings he reminisces that he
went through all stages of amateur fascination in photography. Finally, he got
to workshops conducted by artist Marek Gardulski, and this was a crucially
important, if not the most important, lesson. Gardulski became his mentor.
Jakub claims: “It was him to teach me thinking deeper about photography and
its contexts”. Then he moved to Łódź and started studying at Filmówka (the
Film School in Łódź) where he completed, or rather summarised, education
with master’s thesis entitled Photographers’ Family Photography as a Genre.
Nobuyoshi Araki “Sentimental Journey”, Sally Mann “Immediate Family”, Philip-
Lorca diCorcia “A Storybook Life” – Analysis and Comparison. Having a closer
look through Jakub’s current works, one can see that this subject must have
been closer to him than any other.

These were beginnings, learning the craft, experimentation, translating the
language of paintings to the language of emotions and the other way round.
He familiarised himself with the works by recognised artists and watched
films, numerous films... Jakub created his own style and expressed himself
more and more precisely in the medium he selected. Importantly, he is still
searching, asking himself questions, searching for images that will capture
him and that he will want to capture forever. Photography as a profession requires
from each photographer vigilance and permanent readiness for more
watchful perception of the space around, for astonishment, for another surprise
or amazement at the world. That is what Jakub is like, but he is also an
artist perfectly aware of what he wants to achieve in his field, which is quite
rare. Maximally responsive to constant observation, he is looking for images
that will seem familiar to him – as if shots from a film memorised and put aside
somewhere in memory.

When we are talking about photography and I am asking about various
issues, he is not considering, but telling what he has achieved thanks to his
experience as well as through reflection on his own and other people’s works.
He shares his work. He shares his considerations profoundly and calmly as if
he was reading a book about photography written in his head...
When Jakub Karwowski started taking photos, he was inspired by trips or
at least going out, in other words, by the outside. Now it is different. He has
been focusing on home and his immediate environment, in particular on his
family, for about 5 years. His current works are the following cycles: Summersweed
(2008), Vanila Sky (2009), Private Maps (2010), Family Fiction (2011)
and, last but not least, Sentimental Fiction (2009-2011), which is a compilation
of the previous cycles, awarded Grand Prix – Photo Diploma Award in 2011.
Taking pictures, Jakub started from an image to end in an emotion, however,
in the case of his latest works combining into exhibition Scratch, feelings were
the impulse or the starting point. He knew what emotion he wants to evoke,
but he did not know, how the photograph was to look like. Therefore, he was
looking for an image which he wants to express, to include it. Thus, Scratch
may be considered a breakthrough in his work. The intense personal experience
which contributed to creating the cycle must have influenced the choice
of his working method.

Asked about his masters, Jakub tells mainly about prominent film operators.
He mentions three most important ones: Roger Deakins (cooperation
with, for instance, Coen brothers), Emmanuel Lubezki (working with Terrence
Malick, etc.) and Vittorio Storaro (Bernard Bertolucci’s operator). If we have
a closer look at the works at exhibition Scratch, Jakub’s immense admiration
for the works of great film operators will not be surprising, since his photographs
look like single shots cut from a film, like parts of a larger whole or
fragments taken from a mysterious (and even gloomy) reality. One may even
say that “film thinking” and sensitivity typical of cinema enthusiasts is clearly
visible in his works. Hence the amazing landscape paintings, where the profile
of a young boy emerges. The kid, so beautifully portrayed by Jakub, is his son
Fryderyk. Images presenting Fryderyk are often composed so as to stress the
strong opposition between the dangerous world and the disarming cuteness
of a helpless youngster. The artist is capable of styling a landscape painting to
make it threatening like in a fabulous parable about a dangerous land, and position
the tiny figure of his son as exposed to the enormous danger lurking in
the darkness. All the shots are accompanied by silence, as it is a photograph,
not a film. And the photos seem full of confusing tension.
Jakub juxtaposes the “film” story about a child to the silence of his photographs
and the presence of mute fear of the fate of this fragile boy lost in the
world full of mysteries. The anxiety of these images sated with melancholy
and anesthetised with a great taste is extraordinarily beautiful. One might
say that it hypnotises the recipient with its beauty, although it also seems to
infect with terrible fear. Looking at it we enter the grim reality of the fabulous
world where the danger is lurking (a boy by the pool, a lonely child with
a backpack, a youngster following a forest path). Other photographs show
Fryderyk with his mum, an immensely sad, beautiful, young women, the second
Scratch protagonist. Her face and profile may be found in the previous
cycles, as well. Where the child was alone in the painting, its solitude constituted
the source of fear, but when he is with his mother, it is especially the
sadness and reflection which seem to suggest that she knows something we,
as the spectators, do not know, and which changes everything... And it really
does, because Jakub’s son, as a newly born baby, underwent a serious heart
operation which left a scar, the titular “scratch” on his small child’s body. This
comment will surely direct the reception of the whole exhibition, however,
a spectator who does not know the family history may find the anxiety present
in the photos only unidentified, but still perceptible or, precisely speaking,
discernible. Besides, the author of Scratch does not see the purpose of adding
comments; he claims his photographs must be “self-contained”, although in
other cases he confirms the reasonableness of providing hints to the photos.
I think Jakub’s works really do not need any prompt as far as their interpretation
is concerned. The unfamiliarity with the personal story deepens the mystery,
expands its borders… Jakub says he wanted to convey emotions without
illustrating them from the beginning of the cycle.
By the way, I would like to mention that when I saw photographs by Jakub
Karwowski for the first time, I remembered works by Patrick Taberna who participated
in the 5. Photography Biennial. Moreover, Taberna deals with genre
referred to as “the photographer’s family photography” and, like Jakub, he celebrates
the beauty of his family, especially of his children. He portrays minor
events making them sound more important, he deals with the production and
composition precisely and with consideration. This is what connects the two
artists who do not know each other and, one in Kraków, and the other in Paris,
they build their ominous but beautiful photographic silence of the paintings.
They differ in many areas, but what connects them is a similar sensitivity and
courage to create respecting the beauty of the world, which is not a popular
trend nowadays…

I asked Jakub about his working methods, as none of the cycle photographs
is accidental, all of them are almost obsessively polished. They leave
no room for less important elements. Seemingly, the removal of the minutest
detail may ruin the elaborate structure. Work over each photograph takes
Jakub a few days, which is visible. It is a complex treatment which needs time.
For instance, colouring. Dyeing photos has its opponents, however, the result
compensates for any possible objections to such practice. It is difficult not to
compare work and a photographic image to actions typical of painters who
compose the image area, as well, select the objects within and, fill them with
colours... What is more, Jakub Karwowski admits to his fascination by oil painting.
It is particularly visible in two works which consist of big colourful stains:
a black-red-blue photograph with an illuminated child’s face against a dark
background and a navy blue-grey-green, which depicts an unsharp looming
profile of a sleeping newborn baby. Both of them are examples of a method
for constructing paintings and, broadly speaking, the painter’s way of thinking.
They also prove an artist’s sensitivity to the use of a colour spot as well
as the manifestation of the photographer’s longing for an unsharp, obscure,
and therefore a little unclear painting. The space presented starts being almost
abstract; the light and richness of colours are more important than the
shape and contour of objects. Thanks to this blurring, the reality presented
becomes not only more mysterious, but also universal. What we see is happening
at home, but also “wherever” – in the imagination, in the memory… Is this really happening?
Does it matter whether it was or it was not so? As Jakub Karwowski writes
in a theoretical text about photography constituting a kind
of philosophical considerations on his own work and other issues: “In consideration
of the very photographic image, it is not important whether or not
a situation really happened, whether it was produced or generated. Usually no
one thinks over whether a scene of a film was shot on location, in a studio or
in both places”. Reflecting on the foregoing, several lines further he raises the
complex and perverse issue of creation: “You must lead people by the nose,
creating worlds which do not exist but make it easy to enter into, as if they
existed somewhere. It is unpleasant to wade in somebody’s imagination or
fantasies which are totally different from what we know and deal with every
day (even in films). It is unlike in a pseudo-real world which does not have so
strong individual hallmarks of who creates it. Such a world may be easily assimilated
and regarded our own. From this perspective we can go through
subsequent levels of an image”.

“Leading the spectator by the nose” is a temptation difficult to resist for
many artists. As it is not only the sense of creative power, but also a kind of creating
of a magic world. A photographer-demiurge, a photographer-illusionist.
Telling satisfactorily about “leading by the nose”, Jakub admits something many
people only dream of. He touches one of the most crucial aspects of creative
work – going one step above the society and everyday reality. Photography
is no longer a slave of world documentation ideas – it was given the right to
create. Jakub exercises this right.
He is fascinated by possibilities triggered by photography, by the fact how
wonderful a tool it is, not fully recognised, though. During our conversation,
he told me: “Photography is the most powerful as regards the management of
an image which seems to be real. Therefore, he is perfectly capable of creating
very probable fiction”. Indeed, he is right, since the perception of photography
is always, to some extent, based on belief in what we see. Therefore, we have
a considerable range of possibilities to manipulate our impressions, our subconscious
trust as well as the conviction of the truth or lie, about what has
happened and what may or may not have happened… In his author’s reflection
I have already cited, Jakub claims: “There is a power in photography present
The probability that the situation has really happened is a rare quality
achieved by photography. Having achieved this, photography makes use of
the whole baggage of documentary and press photography, a reportage, scientific
photography where it mostly serves to present «what has happened»,
showing things which took place, which happened in real”. Works by Jakub Karwowski
at exhibition Scratch, however real, try to escape reality. They lack explicitness,
and their beauty may develop trust as well
as suspiciousness. Although they do not always show real situations, they do
not lie, as the essence lies in emotions which are true and timeless…