From a male perspective it’s “only nine months.“ From a male perspective this is what women were created to do. From a male perspective it’s a beautiful natural miracle. From a male perspective it’s the happiest most joyful event a woman will ever experience. From a female perspective, what the fuck do men know?
When I first encountered Polish photograther Kamil Sleszynski’s work, it was via his handmade book Wolka, a tightly edited sequence of portraits, landscapes and architectural details, which presented a bleak and harrowing description of prison life. For me the success of Wolka was also achieved in no small part through the prose contributed by Kamil’s partner Urszula Although he has only produced a handful of these slender gems, I felt compelled to give Wolka a special mention in my Photobookstore List for 2019, such was its lingering impression. Therefore, for their new book, Prologue, Urszula’s participation has proven indispensable once more. Not only because of her integral written contributions, but because for Prologue she also takes centre stage and becomes the very subject of the project. The book simply summed up, is an account of her pregnancy and birth of their son, from near miscarriage in the early days, to the inevitable post natal hopes, thoughts and fears. Not only are Urszula’s words powerful, moving and unflinchingly honest, we are also treated to Kamil's most sensitive work yet, a series of images and portraits that convey a sense of intimacy only possible when there is an implicit trust between photographer and subject.
As to those images themselves, they flow smoothly, chronologically, charting the full term of the cycle.
The photographs are all reproduced in a warm muted colour palette, which appears almost somber. This ia completely fitting and understandable as the experience seems to have been far from the twenty four hour sunshine and smiles, movie of the day, soft focus fairytale that we would all have hoped for.
Then again reality rarely is.
Kamil’s sensitive handling of the images convey the couple’s uncertainties and hopes perfectly, but as in Wolka the poetic (and beautifully translated) prose serves to heighten and sharpen them.
It connects and clarifies, it animates and oxygenates.
It is the umbilicus.
It instils both the fears of a mother threatened with the worst news possible, the joy of relief as a healthy new life is delivered to her, then just as quickly the panic and concern over what the future may hold.
“Perhaps you will miss me and stay until I fall asleep tired of life.
Perhaps one more time you will let me hug you with all my might.
Like today, when you fit in the palms of my hands.”
Like I said what the fuck do men know.
The production of Prologue is a perfect compliment to the work, and for this, Polish Galeria Slendzinskich deserves to be acknowledged.
With Kamil‘s previous books thus far being handmade, the design and construction both ensures there are enough nods to that artisan honesty, therefore successfully honouring its creator’s natural aesthetic, whilst at the same time employing a moment or two of elevated luxury.
The open spine, thread stitched binding (in a beautifully selected blood red) is the sort of detail that I could imagine Kamil using, whilst the warm uncoated black paper stock and the dark steel gray cloth covered boards - debossed and screened with the single word title - provide an assured but subtle finishing touch. One that whispers gently of the Kind of faith and support that comes from a source that not only implies trust and commitment, but proves it with the book‘s very physical presence.
It appears that the artist Kamil Sleszynski is now up and running, and I am so happy to be able to congratulate him.
Whilst his photography alone has always been enough to guarantee my attention, It is also undeniable that when combined with Urszula’s words, the work soars.
They perform alchemy.
So one last observation would be that after more than one gestation, we seem to have had a number of healthy new arrivals.
A formidable team.
I see gold in their darkness.
Prologue is available in an edition of 400 copies (200 in Polish, 200 in English).
To order http://kamilsleszynski.com/prologue