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The Poles: an intimate portrait of Poland and its people

The impression of an outsider looking in through a foreign lens

Richard Morgan
Friday 13 April 2018 17:04 BST
Richard Morgan's photograph from Poznan, Poland, beat 80,000 other entries to win CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year
Richard Morgan's photograph from Poznan, Poland, beat 80,000 other entries to win CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year (Richard Morgan)

Richard Morgan is an award-winning British street and social documentary photographer. After receiving a PhD from University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and prompted by the Brexit vote in June 2016, Morgan moved to the “heart of Europe”.

Just as his own country was moving away from the continent, Morgan was moving closer with his camera. Influenced by Robert Frank’s The Americans and Ian Berry’s The English, The Poles documents Morgan’s journeys in Poland during 2016 and 2017.

The result is an intimate portrait of the country and its people; it is the impression of an outsider looking in through a foreign lens. Shot predominantly on black-and-white film, Morgan’s photographs are characterised by their humour and sadness, by their split-second contradictions and ambivalence.

His picture of Poznan (above) earned him 2018 Urban Photographer of the Year from the professional services firm CRBE.

(Richard Morgan)

“I experienced the Brexit aftermath from an unusual, but inspiring and stimulating position,” writes Morgan. “It was a form of therapy to me that, on any particular occasion, instead of being wrapped up in the repetitive, self-obsessive discussions and reporting about Brexit, I might be, for example, walking the streets of Lodz, captivated by some moving, compelling human interaction or scene, which, however seemingly insignificant compared to Brexit’s vast, macro-level socioeconomic and political scope, could mean everything to me in that moment, and might convey more to me about humanity, and the world, and my place in it, than discussions about Brexit ever could.

“And I think that’s what the pictures in The Poles are: split-second moments, or scenes, or occasions to which I’ve been drawn, which have arrested my attention, because I noticed in them something I thought to be fundamental, if only a fragment, not only about Poland, but about modern society in general.

“Themes of ambivalence, social contrast, irony, and intensity – those things I recognise as fundamental and important – permeate all of my work, from St. Petersburg to Barcelona, from Bangkok to New York City, from London to Shanghai.

“And these same themes unite the photographs in The Poles, but are shaded by, dressed up in, and coloured with the context of contemporary Poland. It’s as if I’ve been trying to find out how the fundamental, universal themes of ambivalence, social contrast, irony, and intensity play out in a Polish setting, what they look like in Poland.

“I didn’t set out to represent Poland and Polish people in a specific way. There was no agenda in that sense. When I look at the collection of images I have produced, I see photographs connected by themes of humour and sadness, by unity and division, by contrast.

“So I think the version of Poland and of the Polish people you get from looking at this body of work is characterised by ambivalence: a place of loneliness and togetherness, of control and freedom, of violence and delicate care, of immobility and transition, of hopelessness and faith.

“I guess, in the end what I have produced is a record of what I think is worth looking at in Poland, of what has affected me there, of what has moved me in various ways. I have chosen my favourite photographs from 18 months of work to include in the final project, a selection that will always rub against any idea of objectivity or truth, but will be instead a glimpse of what I have seen and of what can be seen.”

You can follow more of Richard Morgan's work on Facebook and Instagram.

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