Jacenty Dędek – Portrait of the Provinces

Review by Gerhard Clausing

Small towns, villages, rural areas – the ‘provinces’ – are the backbone of any country, and they always cover large areas. So it is in Poland, and the Dędeks, Jacenty and Kasia, spent more than six years capturing life as it was found there. Naturally, the result is a weighty tome, weighing in at 2222 grams, or 2.2 Kilos, or almost 5 pounds (US), and presenting more than 150 mostly large-scale photographs on generously-sized pages, along with a series of complementary narrative vignettes.

Both Dędeks are very astute observers of life around them. Jacenty has an amazing visual acumen that captures simultaneous unguarded, ‘indecisive’ moments in amazing compositions, while Kasia gets the verbal side of things, having the gift of getting people to talk about their histories, and supplementing the project with such first-hand accounts and descriptive prose capsules of areas and the times that have shaped them.

Looking over this impressive book, I am reminded of the work of August Sander, whose huge project People of the Twentieth Century was a major effort to document both rural and city dwellers of the German nation in the early part of the previous century.

But this Dędek project goes well beyond that. We see depictions and verbal accounts that characterize people and areas that have seen and are still witness to major changes. The old folks cling to an older way of life that is carried by a strong traditional definition of their Catholic faith. The young folks have inherited a country that has had much strife for many previous decades – occupation by the Germans and the Russians, problems with other bordering countries, economic difficulties, better jobs elsewhere, especially in other countries – it’s almost a matter of “you name it, they’ve seen it” … what is left that they can believe in or cling to?

The photographs are a mix of strong individual and group portraits, along with many overviews of place and context, markedly special moments. One can see the skepticism in people’s faces, expecting better things to happen, as well as the hard work that is the basis of eking out their living with relatively modest expectations. But there is also a strong sense of survival that is the thread that holds it together, a willingness to work toward a better future. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? Check out Włodzimierz Nowak’s afterword for more.

This book has my highest recommendation as a model documentation, a project that is heretofore unequaled in its approach and its potential impact. I also hope that an equally observant and intelligent project may be undertaken to present a Portrait of the Cities, which might constitute another ‘album’ with universal meaning.

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Jacenty Dędek – Portrait of the Provinces, English Edition

Photographer:  Jacenty Dędek (born and lives in Częstochowa, Poland)

Self-published, with the assistance of crowd-funding, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Institute of Creative Photography at the University of Silesia, Opava, and the Rotary Club of Częstochowa, Poland; © 2020

Essays and Texts:  Kasia Dędek, Włodzimierz Nowak; translated from the Polish by Anna Zaranko

Language:  English

Hardbound with illustrated dust cover, sewn; 360 pages, paginated, with 152 tritone photographs; 24 x 30 x 4 cm (9.5 x 12 x 1.5 inches); DTP by Mirk Bobrowski; printed in Poland by Petit SK, Lublin; ISBN: 978-83-915464-2-0

Photobook Designers:  Jacenty Dędek, Kasia Dędek

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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