Magic box

For Gutka’s birthday, she received a magic box. It was the prelude to our next adventure – photography.

The mystery box was the Canon AF35M, the first fully automatic compact camera. A solid piece of equipment with autofocus and flash. The camera also has the advantage of a 38mm/2:8f lens, which is fine for reportage and portraiture. In its native Japan, the camera is called „Autoboy”, in the USA: „Sure Shot”. And indeed, after just the first film exposure, I was positively surprised by the effect. But let’s take it one step at a time.

I have been photographing since I was a child. I spend long hours in the darkroom, soaking exposed paper and developing film. With a beating heart, I waited for the results of my artistic explorations. Most often, slightly self-conscious, I would look at them at the first rays of sunlight. Beautiful times. These days, I use a smartphone for family documentation. Probably like most mortals. The smartphone is always at hand, has instant results, and gives the possibility to send photos to grandma 🙂 However, the situation changes dramatically during weekend or holiday trips. Then I grab my analogue Olympus Trip 35, colour or black, and head out into the field!

Gutka quickly picked up on our interest in photography. As the old Chinese proverb suggests, if you want your children to do exciting things, start with yourself and do something interesting too! In any case, Gutka was eager to grab my or Zosia’s phone to take photos. The smartphone’s design meant they were usually a whole series or a finger appeared in the lens. However, regardless of the effect, Gutka was always happy to look at the photographs she took. But one day, she took a picture with my rangefinder.

„I want to see my photos!”

One day I brought in prints from Guta’s first exposed film. Wow! My daughter has captured us from her childlike perspective. One day I brought the prints of the first exposed film from the workshop. Wow! My daughter has captured us from her childish perspective. In her frames, we seem to be a bit too big and don’t always fit together. So we often appear in detail, represented by a belly or a leg. Sometimes we are shown a little off-kilter, preoccupied and tired with something, but usually smiling. In the background, a slight mess or some puzzling object sometimes presents itself. The colour photos take us back to the nostalgic world of ‚The Wonder Years’, while the black and white photos. Especially those using flash, take us back to the 1980s-90s. Here is a fun game of likeness: we look a bit like our parents playing with us or holding us in their arms. There are also a few pictures referring to Italian neo-realist films. Gutka’s photographs also feature her younger sister Gaja. These are particularly tender images.

I wonder what Gutka’s gaze is like from behind the camera. It is easy to fall into the trap that it is natural and spontaneous, with no thought of frame or form. That as the Surrealists believed, photography is a blind, automatic tool. I’m looking through photographs from a bunch of clichés exposed by my daughter. Two very different projects come to mind. The first is an activity among kids from post-state farm villages in the Beskid Niski region. In 2002, Piotr Janowski, Paweł Kula and Marek Noniewicz came there with a sack of film and a box of uncomplicated cameras, the so-called monkey cameras. They handed out the cameras to the kids with the message that they could photograph whatever they wanted. Excited, they set off into the open air, surprised that everyday life could be an interesting subject for photography. Until then, they had only associated photographs with family celebrations and smiles, forced for the occasion. Selected photos were shown at an exhibition in Warsaw and appeared in an album dedicated to the project. In them, we see siblings, the interiors of houses and backyards, domestic animals, children’s toys and adults’ play, general plans and details of the post-street life in Jasionka and Krzywa. The second association is with Nan Goldin’s photographs, mainly those from the album „Eden and After” and „Diving For Pearls„. Goldin is an artist of incredible sensitivity, photographing with a certain lightness and sensitivity. The photographs in the album about the children of Eden and After are 300 images collected over years of work. Some are kids of family and friends, but not only. Into thirteen chapters, the album depicts games and play but also its anxieties, fears and tears. As the title suggests, this is a story about a lost paradise. This paradise is childhood:

“People would say to me, ‘children know everything,’ and I thought it was sentimental crap,” she said. “But I really started to believe it. If you look at some of the pictures of the children when they’re only three weeks old, the look in their eyes is like they’re winking — like they know everything. And then the process of growing up is being made to forget it all, as children are socialized.”

The second Goldin album is about „adult life”. The book includes cityscapes and animals, self-portraits, interiors, sculptures, mirrors and tombstones. Taken as a whole, carefully viewed, it turns into an emotional and magical journey.

Succinctly, there are other photographs taken by Gutka – in colour and black and white. They are usually viewed together. Each time it is like the premiere of an eagerly awaited film. The materiality of the prints is also significant in all this. Developed, mostly in 9×13 format, they are passed from hand to hand, sometimes snatched or thrown at each other, sometimes hugged or even kissed. I value this relationship with photography and allow all these practices.
I find myself associating it with activities around images of saints, which, depending on the relationship and the need, get torn up and/or eaten.

Last time, I picked up a film of Gutka’s photos from our holidays. Gutka jumped up when she saw them and hugged one of the photos from the campsite. The seaside series opened with four photographs of the sea. It is the same frame, only slightly shifted. I remember the moment. We were camping on the beach, and I asked Gutka if she wanted to take some photos. Gutka grabbed the camera, took a few steps towards the sea and pressed the shutter button four times, at certain intervals, photo after photo. Through these few photos, she finally caught that sea we had been travelling to for so long.

I asked Gutka why she liked taking pictures:

„I like to because in this way I have such nice souvenirs, from the campsites, the mountains and the sea. I also let Gajka take photos. And when we go to the mountains, I’ll take pictures too! – she cheerfully added.

That’s how our magic box works. We recommend it 🙂 .

Bibliography

  • Diving for Pearls, Nan Goldin, Steidl Verlag 2016
  • Eden and After, Nan Goldin, Phaido 2014
  • Świat. Fotografie dzieci z Jasionki i Krzywej, Andrzej Stasiuk, Czarne 2002
  • The quote comes from „Nan Goldin Illuminates the Short-Lived Magic of Childhood”, By Krystal Grow, April 8, 2014, Time.com.

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