by Kamil Śleszyński
Featured today is self-taught documentary photographer Kamil Śleszyński. Based in Bialystok, Poland, he focuses on long-term projects that focus on the complex relationships between people and works often with a large-format camera.
Śleszyński’s Lost Place immediately captured us with its beautiful black and white photographs depicting an intimate and emotive picture of a Catholic rehabilitation facility in the middle of nowhere in Poland. The facility is currently in a struggle to raise money; if standards aren’t met, it’ll be closed down.
Read our interview with Śleszyński to find out more and how to donate.
What’s your story?
A few years ago I met the director and journalist Dariusz Szada-Borzyszkowski. He was working with prisoners and regularly cast them in performances. I was impressed with his work, and when I saw Our Class (a story about a group of classmates – Poles and Jews – from 1925 to recent times) by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, with Darek’s direction, I decided that I also wanted to work with prisoners.
I photographed as an amateur for several years, during which I gained a lot of theoretical knowledge; recently I decided to do it seriously. Dariusz put me in touch with the right people and gave valuable advice, his help greatly accelerated my practice and career.
But this is not the whole story; I was interested in prisons for a long time, even before my friendship with Darek. I grew up in the neighbourhood of a prison. I often used to walk near the prison walls and watch the prisoners. They would stand in the windows, bathing in the sun. I wondered why they were behind the walls. This curiosity stayed with me.
Tell us more about Lost Place.
Lost Place tells the story about Metanoia, the Catholic Centre for Education and Addiction Therapy. The facility helps young people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Located in the Knyszynska Forest in Poland, it occupies the former administration building Agroma – factories which, in the past, produced agricultural machinery, home appliances, and likely also weapons.
This is a place without an address, in the middle of the woods. The walls of the forgotten fabric make it so hard to see. Make it invisible. This is the place where some people have found their asylum. Without the old thoughts, friends and drugs.
This subject is a direct result of my previous project Input/Output, which consists of photographs made within prisons and a re-entry centre that supports ex-prisoners. While working on it, it turned out that many of my subjects went to jail because of drugs or alcohol, and I wanted to get to the root of the problem.
I often photograph with a large-format camera. I liked using it for this work because it interested many of the people I photographed, as did the old style photographic techniques you had to use to operate the camera. They had never seen such equipment. and it was a new experience for them which really helps a lot, and lessens the distance and unfamiliarity. On the other hand, I had a limited number of shots which made me have to concentrate and focus more on what I was doing.
What inspires you?
Everything can be an inspiration to me. I try to read a lot, and I think a book that had a big impact on me was the book Walls of Hebron by Andrzej Stasiuk who told his legendary story of the violent reality of everyday prison life.
Another book that became my bible is My Sambhala by Kazimierz Jankowski which described the story of the Synanon Organisation – initially a drug rehabilitation program (founded by Charles Dederich in 1958 in Santa Monica, California) which became an alternative community, then ultimately the Church of Synanon in the 1970s and was disbanded permanently in 1991 due to various criminal activity and legal problems.
What are you up to next?
I am preparing to work on a new project about the extermination of Jews in the Bialystok ghetto in 1943. There are only a remaining handful of witnesses of those terrible events, and the time to document and discover their stories is quickly running out. This new project will be different from previous ones in that I will be using extremely long exposures and home-made cameras.
You can donate to the centre via Caritas. If you send a donation, please add a note that it is for the renovation of the centre Metanoia.