The latest series of photographs by Bogdan Konopka, made in China, yet again confirms the efficacy and attractiveness of his method. However, when he decided to create this series he took a risk connected with the question whether a distant and strange world, which China in many respects is, would open for him and allow to discover and reveal what he has already managed to achieve successfully in the world he belongs to in the geographic and cultural sense. When we look at the photographs that came into being during the past few months in China it turns out that it does not really matter which culture one belongs to - much more important is not where one is going, but what one has to offer and what intentions one has. In this case the intention has been clear and simple: to discover, get to know and show the world by means of photography without any bias and pretensions towards its interpretation. This attitude is accompanied by an unchanged trust of the Author in photography and his own intuition, based on deep awareness of photography and consistent faithfulness to individually specified aims.
Photographs from China clearly reveal a kind of nonexotic exoticism, typical for Konopka's works, and a mechanism, characteristic for photography, which transforms everything that lies within the field of the lens's vision into the image of a fragment of reality, disengaged from the original whole. In this way the artist creates a photograph full of innumerable details which transfers everything to totally different places and times. Like in his previous photographic series, Konopka, without looking for exoticism in China, tries to show us those multifariously distant places in such a way as if they could be found in the places we live in. The everyday character, and sometimes commonplaceness of those images, is soothed by the awareness of the distance that divides them from the situations they depict.
Konopka's works, including his new series, combine two, apparently contrasting elements. They reflect an intense experience of the presence of and a strong link with the real world whose fragment the photos depict, as well as the simultaneous feeling of alienation. It is not based on the simple feeling of strangeness or isolation from an unknown or remote world. It rather comes close to the situation described by the surrealists as dépaysemant. This term was used to describe the effect of detaching something or someone - in an image or in real life - from everyday context and setting it, in this exceptional situation, against something strange and unknown which through the simple fact of coexisting here-and-now causes this specific state of displacement and alienation called dépaysement. This is also the state the Author himself is in when he stands with his large camera on a tripod in the middle of a fragment of reality as yet unknown to him, full of long domesticated objects and traces of human presence. Such an experience, judging by his last pictures, must also accompany Bogdan Konopka.
The attractiveness of his photographs is the result of the fact that in every situation he tries to depict such fragments of reality that we do not notice due to inattention or the conventionality of our seeing. Konopka shows what is actually visible but what escapes our attention during everyday inspection, though he has noticed it and managed to photograph a part of it. Photographs taken by means of a largeformat camera, in spite of the fact that they may be inspected closely before the shutter is released, can still surprise us - because some things may change in the time that passes between the final look of the photographer at the focusing screen, just before the cassette with the negative is put in and exposed, and whatever happens in front of the camera while the image on the focusing screen is not visible. In Konopka's last series these unexpected and unforeseeable changes are marked by human figures which appear in some photographs and which entered the frame while the activities described above were performed. Their illegible, blurred shapes stress both that objects last and endure in the photographs, as well as that human presence is always transitory.
Transitoriness is one of those features of Konopka's photographs which resemble a breath held for a while when we are surprised seeing something exceptional in the commonness of the world. It takes the advantage of their lightness, delicacy and simplicity which is not imposed on us by the garishness of form or the persistence of content. That is why they can draw our attention and command our imagination much more forcefully and for a longer time than the real situation depicted in them probably could.
The Author shows us what we did not want to or did not have time to see and what we perhaps looked at or could have looked at but what, in the everyday rush or festive conventionality, we did not consider important enough to remember or devote more than a passing glance to it. Konopka in his pictures lets us take advantage of one more - perhaps the last - chance to get acquainted with it. However, photography never is a detailed reflection of what one sees. It is at the same time something larger and smaller. Smaller, because it is but a fragment, a slice of what is seen. Larger, because it shows the given fragment seen in a different way, it adds to something that we already know a different point of view. One could say that looking and seeing in photography is one and the same thing, while in the case of human beings they could be two totally different things. This feature can be both a great drawback and a great advantage of photography. It is also the feature on which the artistic sense of photography is based, as it transgresses the limits of our optic seeing, but does not reach beyond optics itself, as often is the case in the art of painting.
Bogdan Konopka's photography may be considered to be the evidence of various foreseeable and unforeseeable meetings, both obvious and surprising, whose content and sense is not always realized by the photographer. Sometimes it is only intuition that lets him discover something he notices only when he develops a print some time later, looks at it and "reads" it in a different place, at a different time and from a different, twodimensional point of view. I think that such adventures often come the Author's way and they motivate him and his activities, making him, in turn, explore and discover. This last series of works proves that there are no geographic or cultural barriers to those activities. The only obstacle may be that more often than not we look, but do not see. Bogdan Konopka is someone who - looking and seeing - is able to contain what he sees in the image, reminding us of that state when we sometimes look and see something exceptional. In such cases we experience a rare and unusual feeling of intense presence in the surrounding world. It is accompanied by the feeling of sensual and mental link with the world. This is precisely the moment when we hold our breath in order not to disturb the intense feeling of being at one with the world. In everyday life such moments happen very rarely. The photographs by Bogdan Konopka let us not only remember those feelings, but breed them, if we can. Looking at those works we can only guess at the intense and intimate contact with the world, common for all of us, and with those moments in time that the Author shares with us so generously. His most recent photographs prove that they may be experienced everywhere, round the corner of one's street or in other, remote places, like Paris, Łódź or Bejing.