On a computer screen, I am browsing the photographs taken by Wojtek Woźniak, recognising places from his and my hometown, but I’m a bit unsatisfied. I know that the pictures are small, but now I don’t have this feeling. Only actual contact with photography by Wojtek gives full satisfaction in watching and contemplating the reality captured in the pictures. They have their „texture”, blacks are deep, almost velvety, contrasted with bright spaces and surfaces full of light. The prints of pinhole photography have their own power in transmission of a view or a situation. The perspective obtained in this technique gives a sense of space different from the one perceived with the naked eye. I enter another dimension of the places that I know well, seemingly ordinary, but now shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. This feeling is enhanced by the emptiness of space, the street, the interior no staffage, devoid of life time stopped on the photographs. This is symbolic time, because Wojtek captures it in the moment he chooses, while invoking the past memory of locations close to him, then bustling and now abandoned, decaying. He chose Torbyd an ice rink located near the elementary school he attended, where he learned to skate, watched hockey games; a pool at Nakielska Street, once, in the summer months, full of the hubbub of children; two buildings at 3 and 4 Gdańska Street his grandmother lived in one of them. Out of the windows he looked at the museum, not knowing then that it would be his workplace, a place of great importance and significance. And below the grandmother’s apartment, on the ground floor, there is a small art gallery many years later, he would exhibit his photographs there. For over twenty years, I’ve been running this gallery, often passing through a staircase in the building, ugly, dilapidated, and so different from Wojtek’s, hidden in the shadow of memories. And then there’s the train station Bydgoszcz Główna, for years always sad in its structure, configuration, marking the departures and returns of Wojtek and all those who live in Bydgoszcz.
Simply beautiful photographs…
To fully understand the series of works by Wojciech Woźniak, one first needs to find an answer to the question: why in the title of the exhibition he used an old fashioned, smacking of mawkishness word „sentiments”. Well, probably because apart from sentimental nostalgia, sentiment brings us the gift of the praise of the primacy of emotion over reason and return to the primitive simplicity of life. The choice of pinhole camera, which is the most primitive method of imaging that doesn’t even use the lens, seems to clearly confirm this. The phenomenon of the camera obscura, that is an image created through a simple hole, has existed since the beginning of the world, or specifically of light and dark. After all, each hole, crack, rupture, slit, clearance can produce an image in the right circumstances. One could even assume that it’s not the humanity that looks at the world, but the world that silently and continuously observes us through billions of unobtrusive, ubiquitous holes.
The „Sentiments” by Wojtek Woźniak are clearly dominated by an autobiographical note. They are a distinct attempt to deal with the passage of time, on both a personal level as well as civilizational one. The pinhole images are characterised by natural softness and gentleness of contours, they are dreamy and fairy-tale-like. Meanwhile, Wojtek points the pinhole at the memories of the places of his youth, preserved by his memory in the quite idyllic form, such as swimming pool or artificial ice rink. It turns out that the photographs of these sites are the images of the collapse of civilization: the ruins and chaos, as if Wojtek decided to get rid of the idyllic illusions piled up in memories. And even when he photographs the train station, it seems to me as if no train were to come here anymore, or as if it was impossible to go somewhere else. The author, by showing us a world abandoned by the humans, which used to be a place for fun, joy and relaxation, poses an important question about the reason for such radical and rapid changes in the space surrounding us. The Bydgoszcz ice rink „Torbyd” is not an exception; similar fate befell such places as the Poznań „Bogdanka” or „Torpiast” in Wrocław. The permanence of the surroundings laboriously constructed by mankind turns out to be an illusion. Progress grinds matter with increasing speed, ferocity and with effects that can be felt by everyone. In a broader context, Woźniak is apparently interested in urban space and its evolution, since he does not hesitate to point his camera at the Museum, for example; which is a treasury of art, history and collective memory. This gesture is, consequently, a serious question about the point of making and collecting art today.
Wojtek unhurriedly filters time and space through the pinhole of his wooden box, letting the world to introduce itself in its elemental form. Black and white large format negatives are then processed in direct contact with the photo paper without the enlarger and without any manipulation. Nowadays, you need courage to create simply beautiful photographs…
Bogdan Konopka, Paris, 14.03.2013