I grew up in a fall of communism and start of democracy in a small village of Biezen near Czestochowa, Poland. Like most people, our family had lost nearly everything during the WWII, when both of my grandparents were sent to labour camps in Silesia and Potsdam. Upon their return some six years later, the house was occupied by a number of displaced people and it was only thanks to other locals who returned to Biezen my family was able to reclaim the farm, or rather what was left of it.
The house I grew up in was first occupied by German and later Russian commanders during the WWII. It has marks of shells and bullets still hidden in its walls. And it was cold, sometimes frost would glitter the walls! One day in the 90s me, my sister, dad and grandma drove to visit the camp where my nana spent 6 years as a POW. It was a huge day for everyone. Despite being quite young, I remember it clearly and felt it was important to witness it.
When I was growing up, I was surrounded by nature, hard physical labour and rather harsh Polish climate, which I loved and hated at the same time. You know what hardship is when you go through that, but still, it’s worth it. In our working class neighbourhood, in the communism era prior to 1989, nobody had much money to go out and be entertained. Everybody’s social life happened at a house or while working, or on a street outside your home. I learnt to play a piano accordion and together with my childhood friend, we entertained anyone who was willing to listen to our tunes, children from the neighbourhood, random passersby, all sitting quietly listening… Sadly, when my friend turned 18, he died in a car crash with three other people. I created an artwork about it 19 years later, it’s called the ‘Balancing Act‘.
Life as a child under Communism was unburdened with excess or luxury. I vividly remember queuing for hours outside the grocer’s to buy rationed food. The queues sometimes buzzed with lively conversation, or, more often with resignation. I loved reading ‘Tygrysy’ – small format war books describing selected episodes from the Second World War Battle of England, turned out they were propaganda tools!
As a child I made a promise to myself to learn as many languages as I could to be able to leave and explore the world. It was an absurd dream to have in the circumstances. The world we grew up in was the world where men played cards, women cooked food and children listened to war stories, all veiled in thick cigarettes smoke. I wish I had a camera back then, when hidden behind the bed, my eyes were wide from both fear and excitement of stories being told, stories of war being relived once again. Our youth is a remnant of a beautiful place that has slowly been replaced with a digitised version and technological wonders. Is this why are we so attracted to photography?