The word that precisely describes my relation to the Warmia region and its nature is: personal. Yes, it’s a personal place if it’s your birthplace, but it’s more than this. These grounds had already become my second home when I started my predawn photography trips, a kind of sphere of solitude, a mobile hermitage. I have always preferred photographing at dawn, with low light and mist, a little unreal nature. This gives me some benefits I cannot find whilst shooting in the evenings: complete seclusion, no trespassers at all. Even the byways driven hours before the sunrise are empty; the only human beings I meet there are the milk cistern drivers, who work by nature, like the cows that give milk not caring about people’s sleeping hours. The drivers wave hello to me every time I pass by; at this hour it seems I’m a part of dairy family. “Welcome blokes to my private, dehumanized world of land and water.”
I find myself being a local patriot. It’s hard to say how come, having in mind how complex and devastating the history is that has left a deep scar on the society of Warmia. It is a small, 4 500 km2 and 350 000 inhabitants historical region situated on the North-East of Poland. Avoiding politics, I’ll say its history is dramatic – conquered by the Teutonic Order in the thirteenth century, gradually Germanised and Christianized, later becoming a province of the Polish Crown and after Partitions of Poland, consecutively a part of the Kingdom of Prussia and Germany. But the greatest scission came with the end of World War II when the Red Army overran the area. Many of the autochthonic inhabitants fled, many were evacuated and expelled and many nations came in their place. The Soviets took revenge and devastated most of Warmia’s infrastructure and landmarks as it was not only Polish but, furthermore, German residue.
Today, the capital city of Warmia, Olsztyn, has the biggest population of migrant residents in the country, and, nevertheless, it persists in its efforts to hold on to its local tradition – customs, cuisine, open-mindedness and intercultural dialog. That’s how I see it – if you want to feel like a Warmia dweller, you have to try hard; it’s a permanent task ahead to build a local society with smart and history aware residents. I found my share – I praise the character and beauty of Warmia and try to persuade everyone it’s the most beautiful place to live. Come and see.
So, I’m a photographer of Warmia. Sounds a bit unfamiliar, you might say. True, even now many Poles cannot locate it on the map, and, what frustrates me a lot is that they confuse it with its bigger neighbour – Mazury, a very popular tourist destination. I’m a stubborn person. If you called me willful it’d make me smile, but calling me a die-hard doesn’t confuse me either. Warmia is my place to live and my place to photograph. Period.
I love to watch photography from around the world. I have a degree in landscaping, and since I was a child, I have adored maps, geography and planning. My Bible is the Genesis by Salgado. I surf through web photography galleries every day and find it spiritualizing to see the world through someone else’s eyes. In this beauty, there is a threat, however. Every day I see beautiful scenes, with great framing, interesting light and processing. The same. The same as the day before – all of them found in location guides: Dark Hedges in Ireland, Thor’s Well on Oregon Coast, Sagano Bamboo Forest near Kyoto, Jökulsárlón’s Ice Beach in Iceland. I can count more commonly photographed places like this for long hours, and, certainly, I would love to travel to all those places at least once. But the drive for so many to keep copying these scenes over and over makes me curious. Is it really that easy to get to those photographic landmarks nowadays, as you can book your professional guide to the very spot? Is it easier than getting your nose out of your home and learning about your own surroundings? I try to find my own modus operandi – maybe those photo tours are a nice way to develop skills and get inspired, but for building my own portfolio – I wish to do it only in my own backyard. So I’m a photographer of Warmia.
Warmia itself is a blend of land and water, a mostly hilly, glacial area of agriculture and woodlands crossed by many small creeks and lakes. Olsztyn, my birthplace, is great for setting off to explore; it takes 1.5 hour of driving to Reszel, the eastern part and 2 hours to Frombork on the Baltic shore. In those narrow borders you can find vast nature and stunning historical architectural landmarks. Two of the biggest rivers of Warmia – ?yna and Pas??ka, both my beloved ones, have utterly different characters depending on where to go. From a mountain-type terrain to rapid waters in deep forests to a broad, slow and winding current on flat backwaters, it flows through many lakes. And where it flows, it influences the microclimate – cold waters give me almost everything I look for in a bright, warm spring dawn – fog. There’s nothing else I prefer more than low light, an interesting spot and a bit of this magical, unreal vapour. Unless it does not blind my front lens, I try to use it as it enables me to present frames of the landscape in a form no one else can see in daylight.
Apparently the Innuit recognize 60 types of snow. I can name some of them when clearing my car of snow, but 60? It’s a tricky argument to talk about all kind of typologies and diversity. The Polish language, complex and extensive, has about 6 genetic names of fog, the English language probably the same. But every photographer, who works during sunrise, knows many more. It can be hard to easily name every type of mist, fog or haze, but luckily we are not linguists, so we don’t have to name everything we see. We only need it to portray it, that’s what it comes down to. In Warmia, the mistiest season is the fall, when thick and broad clouds hang low over the ground. The fog floats over the water surface, shifting around with the mild morning winds. There is mist hidden in the basins of hills, vaporising after the first sunrays warm the landscape. In a deep forest, thin hazes stay up in the branches and foliage, and that’s when you can hunt for climatic sunray photography. Yes, a photographer knows them all and can make use of fog in his or her creative process.
This is where my first truly aware and longest series of works comes from – Warmia in black and white tiles— a square format in monochrome with landscape photography of my homeland. Why the square and mono? It’s a question of aesthetics, of choosing what’s more important in the powerful image. This choice was made in order to focus on key factors: leaving colour, reproducing the world in greyscale, emphasize the framing and what’s inside of it. An interesting subject is one thing, but the way you render it in a frame, especially in a square format, is essential. To create stimulating photography, you need the perfect light, and weather conditions such as fog can interfere with it in a beautiful way. That’s the answer – black and white tiles are my attempt to picture the Warmia landscape in unique, tasteful photography. Simple as that, it’s a way to see the world, fragmenting it into pieces and composing it into the final frame.
View more of Piotr’s work –> here.
Warmia in Black and White Tiles
(all images (c) piotr wyrzykowski)