Tension and discomfort: Marysia Swietlicka’s practice is driven by themes of religion, eroticism, illness and spirituality

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 500 nominations. Collectively, these 15 talents provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we are sharing profiles of the 15 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct through thebjpshop.com

The Polish photographer’s work is often rooted in the political and social landscape of her home country

Growing up in Poland in a family of medical professionals, Marysia Swietlicka never felt as if her interest in visuals could turn into something serious. She recalls travelling with her grandfather from his village back to Warsaw at the age of 16, peering out of a train window. “I was looking out on the Polish landscape, watching the golden fields swimming in August heat, with birds fishing for bugs and smaller animals,” she reflects. “I thought about how much I wanted to go into cinematography, creating my own worlds like Tarkovsky, but I knew I didn’t have the technical knowledge. When my grandpa asked me about my plans for studies, I started to convince him, and myself, that architecture was the right path. That lie didn’t last long, and at the end of high school, I started looking up photography courses in Europe.”

Swietlicka attended the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) and graduated from there with a BA in 2020. She has produced numerous bodies of work, always playing with the human form. Each image tells a story, and when they are brought together, we bear witness to an inner universe that is complex yet cohesive. She addresses the intricacies of mother-daughter relationships, illness, religion and spirituality, each excavated and gingerly interpreted out of the artist’s cultural and geographical context.

© Marysia Swieticka

In her series Circus, Swietlicka uses dimly lit gestures, bodies and expressions to address the tension between religion – she was brought up Catholic – and medicine, two topics frequently discussed at her family dinner table. Employing grainier textures in My Heart is in the Mountains, she explores her loving but complicated relationship with her mother. Interlaced with this personal work is Swietlicka’s fashion photography, which feels symbiotic with these more impactful themes. “I try to look beyond the clothes and into the feeling they aim to provide,” she states.

Swietlicka was nominated for this year’s Ones to Watch by fellow photographer and KABK alumni, Alex Avgud, who emphasises her ability to create visual poetry with the photographic medium. “Though her themes are often rooted in the political and social issues of her native Poland, Marysia manages to find a new form to discuss topics such as religion and women’s bodies in a manner that oscillates between good and bad dreams, between eroticism and discomfort,” he explains. “They are both here and never-where, and I find myself bravely falling through her mirror into that land of wonder.”

© Marysia Swieticka
© Marysia Swieticka

That invitation to immerse ourselves in Swietlicka’s photographic impressionism is what continues to drive the photographer to create her kinetic universe. When asked what compels her to keep creating, she explains: “Our world lacks a lot of sensitivity, and I like to think that my images act as a counterpart to that, containing and sharing it. I want them to point beyond the material. Making photographs allows me to connect with people better. It also helps me find out about myself, coaxing out what’s inside of me, sharing a touch without touching. To work is an extension of my hands.” 

Cat Lachowskyj

Cat Lachowskyj is a freelance writer, editor and researcher based in London. Prior to pursuing a career in writing, she trained as an archivist in Toronto, developing research on colonial photography albums at the Archive of Modern Conflict. She has completed residencies and fellowships at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ryerson Image Centre and the Rijksmuseum, and her current research interests involve psychoanalytical approaches to photography and archives. Cat’s writing has appeared in many publications including Unseen Magazine, The British Journal of Photography, Foam Magazine and American Suburb X, and she has held editing roles at both Unseen Magazine and LensCulture.