“Eastern and Central Europe has a lot of treasure in its photographic histories,” says Kate Bush, speaking about the exhibition she has curated for Calvert 22, Family Values: Polish Photography Now. It’s the first exhibition in the UK to focus exclusively on Polish photography and, says Bush, “hopefully, it will all be part of feeding a greater understanding and interest”.
Family Values is part of Calvert 22’s mission to show the cultural and societal change in eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia and central Asia through photography, and Bush – who is adjunct curator of photography at Tate Britain – was commissioned by the gallery for the project shortly after the EU referendum. She sees the exhibition as an opportunity to celebrate London’s Polish community, the largest outside of Poland, as well as commemorating the centenary of Poland’s independence.
Two prominent artists of the communist period, Zofia Rydet (1911-1997) and Józef Robakowski, will be exhibited alongside four contemporary photographers, and all of the images on show consider the concept of family, whether literally or figuratively speaking. For Bush, the show is about “individuality and subjectivity within a family grouping”.
Zofia Rydet set herself the task of photographing every person living in Poland, for example, amassing an archive of 20,000 portraits; of these Bush has selected 40 images for the show. “I chose the pictures that I thought spoke a lot about what she was thinking and the people that she was photographing,” says Bush. She describes how the photographs, known as The Sociological Record, map the cultural changes happening in Poland through the home interiors they depict behind each individual.
Aneta Bartos examines her own family, rather than other peoples’, in an unsettling series in which she poses in her underwear with her Speedo-wearing, bodybuilder father. The images leave you “with a sense of disquiet”, says Bush, and hints of “underlying sexuality and narcissism” that are unusual in this family dynamic.
Negative Book by Aneta Grzeszykowska will also be on display, a sequence of images of the artist posing in family scenarios. By painting her body, which appears inverted when processed, the photographer seeks to question her own identity and alienation. Weronika Gesicka contributes clever surrealist montages, meanwhile, and Adam Palenta an unusual documentary based on the home videos of celebrated photographer Worjciech Zamecnik.
“Many significant Polish painters are in increasingly large positions on the world stage and I think the same needs to happen for photographers,” says Bush. “I think art and photography is a brilliant way of engaging with the cultures of other countries, because it is a universal visual language.”
Family Values: Polish Photography Now is open at Calvert 22 from 25 May – 22 July https://calvert22.org/family-values-polish-photography-now/