Witold Krassowski​

An article by Witold Krassowski (Three things on teaching and the taught) is cited on page 20 of the course notes. In the article, Krassowski is passionately adverse to a style of photography that favours aesthetics over empathy for those portrayed in the photographs themselves.

I particularly enjoy the work from Poland presented on Krassowski’s website, maybe this is because as a Pole he has the ability to convey accurately life in Poland. The black and white images focus on unusual moments and have tinges of both humour and pathos. Some of my favourites:

Market Square, Krakow

This is a creepy moment, what are the man’s intentions? Surely his apparent advances toward the pretty young lady in the foreground are unwarranted but her smile and coy expression suggest she is at least unconcerned by them and there could even be a sense of being flattered by the attention.

Village dance, Jelinsk

There is both humour and melancholy in this image, the tall awkward looking man standing alone on the empty village hall dance floor, opposite a row of girls, seemingly much younger and more casually dressed than him, many of whom return his gaze with a mixture of looks – challenge, disgust, wariness.

The style of Krassowski’s work continues in the photographs from Britain on the website:

Stanhope fair, 1989

The first striking thing about this picture is how the fashion dates the image. The returned gaze of the girl in the picture is full of character, she has the aura of someone on the cusp of adulthood, full of confidence and with an air of cool. The blurred dodgems in the background add dynamism to the picture and emphasise the power of the photograph as a snatched moment in time.

Oxford, St. Magdalene’s College, 1989

This image could easily be taken by Martin Parr, 2 couples clearly dressed up and enjoying a party. The couple at the front laugh, the lady apparently falling due to drink and giving an unfortunate view of her underwear. The couple in the background kiss and are apparently unaware of the photographer, until we notice the middle finger of the man raised towards the camera, apparently in a show of distaste for having his picture taken. The kiss now takes on another reading – an attempt to calm the anger of the man at being photographed.

Alston, Cargill coal drift, 1989

A bleak picture. As I am from a former mining area which is still feeling the effects of the loss of heavy industry this image speaks personally to me. It is the expression of resignation on the face of the miner as he sits in the coal truck, he knows that this way of life is coming to an end (in 1989 this would have been one of the few mines left) and there is a sense of an uncertain future ahead.


The blog entry by Colin Jacobson entitled ‘anecdote’ on Krassowski’s website is an entertaining, personal reflection on both his work and the relationship between the two men. Jacobson details how their relationship developed after Krassowski happened to show him his Polish pictures and he realised they could be used as a ready-made photo story (at the time Jacobson was editor of The Independent magazine):

“He produced a small, rather unimpressive-looking portfolio, full of modest-sized prints. The images were all about life in Poland, many of them dark and brooding, others very witty indeed. Every picture I looked at was immediately interesting, revealing, and beyond all that, clearly the product of one consistent creative “eye”.”

The piece finishes with a warm summary of Jacobson’s admiration for Krassowski:

“…the power of Krassowski’s work is in its simplicity, its distilled impact. He does not seek to place his ego between the viewer and what is viewed, making clever constructions or “significant” interpretations. He observes, pounces and portrays, presenting the altogether familiar in a completely fresh and surprising way. He makes it all look so effortless, the sign of a true artist.”

After reading the Krassowski’s essay that led me to look at his work I was left with a feeling that he was being somewhat self-important in his views while also being judgemental of fellow professional photographers who he did not feel met the standard that he sets for himself. Without any evidence of presented in the piece, I was left with the choice of either taking his words at face value or not and must admit to feeling sceptical. After seeing some of his work and reading Jacobson’s affecting testimony I am now left with a sense that Krassowski does indeed ‘walk the walk’ he details in his article. Although his passion and belief are not in doubt I am still unconvinced about the validity of his arguments and need to consider these further.

Bibliography:

Krassowski, W. (2004) Three things on teaching and the taught. Eight Magazine, Volume 3 Number 1, May 2004. Available at: https://issuu.com/foto8/docs/vol3no1 [accessed 18th April 2014]

Links:

Witold Krassowski Website

Blog entry: The Paradox of Documentary: Witold Krassowski – ‘Three things on teaching and the taught’

Anecdote: Colin Jacobson (from Witold Krassowski’s website)

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