17 IX - 14 X 2005







Memory of Images - Memory of Photography

Great is the power of memory. Fear overcomes us, good God, what an unfathomed, infinite richness it is. This is what spirit is, what I am... Whatever is in memory is also present in the soul. I survey and study all those things {the images of memory) at will, and sometimes I penetrate them as far as I can, but I can never reach the bottom. Such is the power of memory, the power of life in a living man - in spite of the fact that he is mortal.
St Augustine


Images take up most of the space in our memory and they become our most valuable deposit. The memory of images is the ability to recall those images fixed in the human mind which always belong to the past. Our mind, just like photography, registers only those events that passed. Memory - which is obvious - is inseparably connected with time, its unstoppable passage and everything that invariably happens in it - it is a constant transformation of the present into the past.
The most recent project by Wiesław Barszczak called Łagiewniki, shown for the first time at our current exhibition, touches many aspects of the problem of memory and photography. The quotation from St Augustine cited at the beginning of this text refers to human memory, to its nature which constitutes our identity in the personal and metaphysical dimension. We can extend the power of the workings of memory onto photography which can serve memory and which in itself is one of its forms. "Photography as memory" is a trivial and not a very revealing metaphor but this does not change the fact that this is what a photograph is - every photograph, the intentions of its author notwithstanding. Photography is a specific form of memory, limited by its nature as a single registration of a small fragment of time and space, unimaginably small in comparison with the whole. Photography means memory of something, but of someone as well, because each photograph also belongs to the memory of its author even when the image lurking in the negative will never be revealed. In order to take a photograph one must first look and see. Everything that is essential for photography takes place between looking and seeing. Photography registers what is seen - at least such are the intentions of photographers. However, there is a difference between what is seen and what is photographed. The latter is always something else and something larger than the former. Before taking a picture we usually see less than what is later registered in the photograph. This is because we look and see using the "eyes" of memory in the same way that it preserves images - that is, selectively.
Reflecting on the nature of the power of human memory, St Augustine was writing in the times when he did not yet have an ally in the form of a photographic image. Imagine how much more powerful can memory be and how the power of images can be enhanced with the help of the memory of photography! Is this dual power, combined in the human experience of time, always realized and made use of? It seems not. Only few artists use it in order to excavate from the past whatever is important and needed for our existence to retain the necessary continuity of presence in time. One of such artists, who has been struggling with those two powers nearly from the beginning of his career, is Wiesław Barszczak, the Author of our current exhibition.

The basic elements of Barszczak's works are combinations of single photographs. However, a single photograph is helpless in the face of the unimaginable number of images that each of us preserves in memory and in the face of the great number of images that can be photographed at all. This is the weakness, but also the strength of photography. From this multitude of really and potentially existing images a single photograph selects one single image and preserves it precisely along with all its details. One detailed photograph may reveal something that usually escapes the registration of our memory or everyday perception. It may become an important element of the reconstruction of past events, reaching beyond the spatial and temporal limits of a single frame.
Wiesław Barszczak's photographic art functions precisely within such relations and applications. Photographs from which he creates his diptychs and triptychs are deliberately imperfect - out of focus, sometimes blurry. Photographic processes continue to take place in them long after the artist's work in the darkroom has been finished, changing the contents and the appearance of the photographs.
One really has to look closely at the works presented at this exhibition and devote time to them - we must let ourselves be imbibed by those works. Only then will they requite us by magically setting in motion the images of our own memory, imperfect and vague, which we have forgotten completely in the stream of everyday life along with past emotions that we have dimly registered in memory. However, we should not look for details, concrete contents or a legible sense in those works because even though they are present in them, they can be discovered only in relation to the singular memory of their Author. Their value lies in setting in motion the processes of the spectator's own memory.
Barszczak works along the lines of the mechanisms of memory. He forces the photographic process to register images in spite of its media qualities, making the photographs blurry, unclear, unexpected and devoid of details. He is aiming at making the spectator feel that he himself is present where the photograph was taken, he is aiming at evoking an emotion that is similar - but not the same - to the emotion that the Author felt when taking the photograph. Equally important part of this process is reconstruction, the recollection of the past spatial and temporal situation as well as of the emotion that came into being in this particular place and time. Barszczak strives to preserve in his works both those elements, equally important from his point of view - the spatial/temporal and the emotional one. It seems that he intends to recreate these impressions every time he or the spectator comes into intimate contact with these images and sets in motion the mechanisms of the memory of images.

In Barszczak's works each single image is somehow connected with the neighbouring one, it results from or refers to it. A single image by means of its illegibility or close relations with other images initiates the process of combining images into a memory conceived as a whole. However, in order for this process to work we must engage not only our imagination and memory but we must also open up our perception as we do when reading poetry. We must combine dispersed, fragmented, singular contents that can be found in those images into a certain whole similar to the structure of a poetic message. It can be done by filling up the space between words-images. In order to do this we must reach beyond more or less literal contents of the images and abandon conventional, habitual ways of perceiving photography in which everything seems so legible, obvious and unambiguous.

All projects by Wiesław Barszczak come into being slowly and they are always deeply rooted in his private biography. Photography which is a tool that allows us to make contact with time and the external world also serves to reconstruct our personal entanglements within this world. The unusual way in which the image is edited and partial non-closure of photochemical processes enrich the aforementioned temporal relations, pointing to their new aspects as well as to the changes which the passing time and the photochemical processes cause within the images themselves. Each time we return to them we actually return to slightly different, altered images. This is similar to the workings of our memory in which those images change slightly every time they are recalled. We can never remember one and the same image in exactly the same way. The image changes just like in time the images in the works of the Author change unnoticed. Unexpectedness, incompleteness and chance present in his works also help to preserve spontaneousness, continuity and changeability of a passing glance.

Barszczak's works contain one more universal and existential aspect - an intense feeling of one's presence in time. The experience of this specific feeling of being submerged in time - that is in something which is immaterial - is actually extrasensory as it is not experienced by any of our senses. Such an experience often results in the feeling of loneliness and separation from other creatures and beings. The sublimation of this feeling in art allows us to restore the bonds with the external world and with other people. In the case of Barszczak's works it is made possible thanks to the references to his personal memory. He takes advantage of photography's ability to evoke images and emotions recalled from the depths of our memory. The literal content of the photographs is not the sole source of this process. Its true source is memory - human memory and the memory of the photographic image. On this basis our mind is able to reconstruct something much more complicated than just the recollection of the image of what we have forgotten. We have to do here with the ability to take an emotional journey back into the past and make use of its experiences here and now. The richness of memory and the richness of past experiences that accumulate in us layer after layer like a coral reef is the result of the fact that thanks to their mechanisms we can use them at will at any given time and anywhere - without always being aware of it. It is an everyday process which is usually involuntary - a part of our ordinary routine. On the other hand, something extraordinary and unusual happens when we manage to combine our everyday exploitation of the riches of memory, necessary for our practical functioning, with a more sublime form of exploration, leading to the evocation of feelings and allowing us to feel whatever time and experience have deposited in our memory.
One of the most effective means to achieve this state of mind is art - its creation and perception. A work is a sublimation of the artist's personal experience and while it enriches him personally it also serves to create a potential opportunity for the spectator in whom similar processes may be initiated. Barszczak's works are based on the universality of this process. Not all spectators must know those places so close to the Author's heart in order to experience similar emotions in the presence of their images. Every one of us - without always being aware of this - possesses memories, vague images and the memory of places which cause this complicated, emotional and intellectual process connected with the exploitation of memory. Ambiguity, vagueness, obscurity and unexpectedness of the images in Barszczak's works set in motion this universal mechanism in the spectator's mind. It depends on the spectator, on his ability to open up to the message contained in a given work, how useful and valuable his contact with Wiesław Barszczak's works will turn out to be.

It would seem that works whose roots and message are so personal must remain hermetic for the viewer. If this were the case, however, these modest and seemingly imperfect images would not find their public. But Barszczak has his spectators. For years now his parsimonious and difficult works are objects of interest, admiration and lively reactions on the part of the viewers, although if we asked them why they like and highly value those works they would probably be unable to come up with a quick and clear answer. That is because the Author has found a photographic, universal way of including photography in the mysterious processes of his own memory and the memory of all those who are willing to look at his works closely and let their memory play with them endlessly.
Łagiewniki is a magical place of the Author's childhood. We all have such places although not all of us remember them. Contact with Barszczak's works may help us to recall them from our memory along with the emotions they are connected with. This recollection alone is worth poring over Barszczak's works and following his trail in order to penetrate the somewhat forsaken memory of the magical places of our own childhood. Not counting other, artistically important and meaningful aspects of his works, this personal one may well be the most valuable because it is also universal. The mechanism and power of Barszczak's art may reveal itself before every spectator who will open his heart and mind without any prejudice and expectations in order to explore the poetically vague and unexpected world of the artist's images and imagination.

Lech Lechowicz, August 2005

Exhibition organized as part of an
"Art Promotion"
of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Poland

Copyright ©2005 Galeria FF ŁDK, Wiesław Barszczak, Lech Lechowicz.