Izabela Jurcewicz – Body as a Negative: Sensations of Return

Review by  Gerhard Clausing

Those of us who have undergone operations know about the many forms of mental and physical anguish these entail, as well as about the stamina, fortitude, and patience we as patients are expected to muster during the whole process, before, during, and afterward. When it comes to very serious operations of many hours that remedy a very rare form of an inter-organ tumor, the stakes are all the greater and everything seems all the more overwhelming. Cellular changes leave their mark.

Izabela Jurcewicz experienced all this, came out of the process successfully, and now shares the whole journey with us in this gripping photobook; she also gained the strength to support her father in his newly diagnosed situation. All of this is presented in a very open manner: the cover has a window that lets us view a portion of the patient on an operating table contemplating her body and her fate, leading to a full-age image when you open the book. The binding is open as well; nothing is hidden, you can see the stitching, and the lay-flat approach made possible by the binding lets us see all the details of every image.

Our bodies at times present us with negative changes, and our job is to work toward as positive an outcome as possible, just as was done in the case of analog photography. As we turn the pages of this book, Jurcewicz shows us many moments of self-examination and recollections of procedures exacted on her by medical professionals. The images were recreated to let us in on the whole process from the beginning, as it obviously was not possible to photograph all these moments in the hospital, and it was important to use this photography project as a form of retroactive physical and mental recovery.

The images are gripping in several respects. The analog direct representations allow us a view of the nitty-gritty of the actual physical process – such as surgical instruments, body anomalies, scars that have healed. Her self-portraits give us insights into the emotional roller-coaster she experienced. The metaphorical images give us the view of the entire process of the body as well as the psyche, including healing – the fish in a bowl, the massaging hands of supportive others, the seashells, plants, and tuning forks that allowed getting in touch with different kinds of wisdom and longevity to facilitate an optimal transition and greater peace. There is also a simulated negative of her body/self-examination image, in a glassine envelope to bring us very close to the medical procedures, shown in image 6 below. The colors are more subdued, even pastel-like, as is the cover, to show a substantial amount of vulnerability.

Also very important are Jurcewicz’s many interspersed descriptions, notes,  thoughts, and contemplations – many details of her traumatic memory that she has articulately verbalized. These also include some physician notations, as well as details regarding various therapeutic techniques that were complementary to her physical healing. The work with the camera to recreate the whole process and the publishing of this book were certainly important parts of her progress. The image and section titles provide further insights. This book is a superb example of an effective collaging of words and images to make a unified whole, inspiring hope. Highly recommended!

You may also want to check out a related photobook that I reviewed some time ago, Cat Gwynn’s 10-Mile Radius.


Gerhard Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.


Izabela Jurcewicz – Body as a Negative: Sensations of Return

Photographer:  Izabela Jurcewicz (born in Poland; divides her time between New York and Providence in the US and Warsaw and Poznan in Poland)

Publisher:  Yoffy Press, Atlanta, Georgia; © 2022

Texts:  Izabela Jurcewicz

Language:  English

Softcover with cut-out window and Smyth (open) binding; 96 pages, unpaginated; 8.5 x 10.5 inches (22 x 26.5 cm); printed in the Netherlands by Wilco Art Books, Amersfoort;  ISBN 978-1-949608-29-8

Photobook Designer:  Cara Buzzell


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.

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