Ela Polkowska is a photographer based in Warsaw, Poland. She is interested in documenting people, places and objects on the margins of everyday life and subjects relegated from the dominant public memory or hidden from consciousness.
Below, she talked to her about her inspirations and current projects:
I’m very much inspired by films, especially by those directed by John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and Steve McQueen. I also admire, invariably for years, medieval, renaissance and baroque paintings.
In my photography I document people, places and objects on the margins of everyday life and subjects relegated from the dominant public memory or hidden from consciousness. Recently, my work has been dominated by topics connected with the human body. I’m interested in how an individual can react in extreme ways to everyday conditions and experiences connected with senses of touch, movement and body position.
For me, photography is a tool to create an image. I’m not so interested in technical aspects of the medium. What is the most important to me is the final effect of using a camera, which is a flat image, whether displayed on a computer screen or printed on paper.
In my current project ‘Don’t Let Me Move You’ I investigate the Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a neurological disorder defined by the occupational therapist Anna Jean Ayres, which results from the brain’s inability to integrate certain information received from the body’s sensory systems. My practice is defined by two forms of photographic work: in collages constructed from my own images I deal with the surreal of human movement, especially in relation to the sense of balance; in staged images I want to explore uneasiness of interactions among people and tension in the relationship with the world.
The other series that I’m still working on is called ʻFirmly Pinch The Skin Together’ [featured on this page] and is a visual manifestation of a tactile universe that involves intimacy and closeness, whilst capturing sensitive moments of tension and pressure. The series explores the outward appearance of our inner selves by recording dilapidated structures, body parts, motion and touch, tracing our sense of anxiety, discomfort and relief. The project relates to the conception of the Skin-Ego by Didier Anzieu, in which a skin is seen as a protective shield that allows us to engage with the world, and which marks the external disturbances we experience through our lives. and conversely it maintains the body in a state of unity, preserving our inner and outer balance.
I’m very curious if the pandemic will change the art world and redefine the way photography can be presented to a viewer. It feels that the traditional system of galleries and festivals is not enough anymore and it’s not possible, or rather inefficient and not interesting, to transfer an exhibition from a gallery space to the web one-to-one. I’m looking forward to seeing new forms of online display.
Last year was demanding for me personally also because I moved from Poland to Sweden, totally changing my environment. I used to photograph my family and friends and now I don’t have them around me anymore, which makes me redefine my work. It’s good as I like to be challenged to be creative.
Right now, I'm trying to put 'Firmly Pinch The Skin Together' in a final shape as I’m planning to make a book from the series. Simultaneously, I’m working on a new project ‘Don’t Let Me Move You’, trying to focus more on staged photography which is something I’ve never done before even though I’ve always wanted to. It seems it’s going to be another challenging year :)
The Futures platform allowed me to re-think my project 'Firmly Pinch The Skin Together', especially when I showed it during the RESET exhibition, curated by Salvatore Vitale. It was a great opportunity to find new forms of presenting my images in the unlimited territory of the web. I hope that working within the Futures will help me to find the best way to communicate the project to the world.