Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Poland is a country that has been subjected to tumultuous ups and downs for many hundreds of years, with particular trauma inflicted in the 20th century by occupying forces, and most especially the horrors of genocide, as well as ever-changing borders. In the 21st century, with more open arrangements within the European Union, new opportunities have opened up and a reemergence of Poland as one of the most important European countries is taking place. When I visited the country in 1995, exactly fifty years after the conclusion of World War II, I could already see evidence of a resurgence that was marked by many inconsistencies, but also by a creative sense of having a chance to rebuild for a unique productive future, in combination with all the varied subgroups present.
Dyba and Adam Lach wanted to find out what the people of Poland are all about, and they spent more than three years crisscrossing the country to get in touch with what could be found, all the way into the moments of the start of the pandemic. Dyba Lach, the writer, and Adam Lach, the photographer, are a great collaborative duo with a special passion for presenting us with a representative cross-section of how people feel and what factors are at work.
White and red are the national colors of Poland, as represented on the flag of the country, and the white eagle is the national symbol, shown in the country’s coat of arms on a red background. Thus it is appropriate that the book is all white and red: the photographs are printed on white paper, while smaller inserts on red paper provide texts – interview excerpts relating individual stories, as well as the authors’ observations and commentary.
This project requires some attention to detail on the part of the reader/viewer. We are taken on visits to members of different ethnic groups with diverse belief systems and customs. Some of the dissatisfaction of current conditions has led some to rediscover mythology and customs from hundreds of years ago. The pressures to adhere to practices of your particular group and to develop a dislike for others can be felt, especially in the rural areas and among the less advantaged members of society. The lure of better earnings when working in bordering nations that were once the enemy are also a strong factor. Other incursions are more ethnic, especially with groups from countries on Poland’s eastern border (Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine), again based on migrations going back a long time, as well as more recent developments. The portraits show various ages and different levels of satisfaction; the group photos and landscapes show old and new customs, left-over relics and new influences of various media and the economy, and, of course, capitalism has become a substantial force.
What also makes this book intriguing is that there are few very obvious direct links between people’s stories and specific images. Rather, the project is presented as a generalizable work in progress, as is the country of Poland, and the manner of presentation is like a scientific workbook: we as outside viewers need to use our imagination in regarding the individuals and groups depicted, also in connection with their testimonials, as they form a kaleidoscope of a country in progress.
‘Rejuvenating’ a hurt eagle, here used as a metaphor for reconstituting a country, is a tricky assignment, as is also shown in one of the vignettes about an institute that helps injured eagles. This book gives us an interesting glimpse of how to use universal challenges to develop common benefits: in difficult times we need to be reminded that solutions are compromises that are the best reasonable answers for the majority of the citizens, with a good measure of tolerance for the practices of various subgroups while maintaining everyone’s freedom of choice. A tall order indeed – “Everything converges toward the middle. Blessed symmetry.”
How to Rejuvenate an Eagle was shortlisted for Book of the Year at Aperture/Paris Photo, Fall 2020.
Dyba Lach and Adam Lach – How to Rejuvenate an Eagle
Author and Photographer: Dyba Lach (born and lives in Warsaw, Poland) and Adam Lach (born in Poznań, lives in Warsaw, Poland)
Publisher: Self-published; © 2020
Texts: Dyba Lach; edited by Olga Gitkiewicz; translated and proofread by Wojtek Jablonski
Softcover with sewn open binding; 136 pages with 66 monochrome images plus bound text inserts; 8.5 x 11.5 inches (22 x 29.5 cm); visual index of locations; printed and bound by Argraf, Warsaw, Poland; editions: 200 of the English version (reviewed here) and 350 of the Polish version
Photobook Editing and Sequencing: Rafał Milach
Photobook Designer: Ania Nałęcka – Tapir Book Design
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