In 2015, when Poland’s most radical right-wing organisation, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, won the general election with a sweeping majority, photographer Joanna Wzorek and her liberal parents were shocked. Policies against immigration, same-sex marriage, and abortion just a few of the controversial views now channelled by Poland’s ruling party.
“Me and my parents felt deeply disrespected by the other side of our family, who voted right-wing,” says Wzorek, a Polish-born photographer who graduated from UAL last year with a degree in fashion photography. “I knew then I had to try and make something positive out of the negative nationalist standpoint that had dispersed within my country,” she explains.
With no prominent interest in politics until then, Wzorek began to research the history of Poland, and became fascinated by an artistic movement that took place between 1890 and 1918, Mloda Polska [‘Young Poland’). “Artists turned their eyes more towards Poland and Polish culture, so I was trying to do the same,” she explains, “I looked at paintings, poetry, music, and I was just trying to see where I fit in within this bunch of inspiration.”
“Here [in London], you see this amazing mixture of different cultures, and I always miss that when I’m in Poland because it’s basically a white country,” she explains, “As a result, I started asking myself ‘Who am I and where do I come from?’” When Wzorek turned her gaze inwards, like the artists of the Young Poland movement, inclusivity and diversity started to become a crucial theme in her project.
“For me, [the project] basically represents a Polish society that respects everyone, despite what they think,” she says, “I just want people to respect each other, and this project is this positive way of expressing this pride”.
Through working with Polish designers, and using ordinary women of different ages, sizes, and appearances, The Sun Doesn’t Want to Look Me in the Eyes celebrates diversity in Poland, and seeks to promote the country’s fashion industry through a more inclusive lens.
“It was really important for me to work with people that were inexperienced,” says Wzorek. “I didn’t want the series to be serious; I think that humour is a strong weapon. That’s also why I don’t retouch the images – because I don’t want a perfect product, I want something that I also feel comfortable with and that doesn’t lower anybody’s self-esteem.”