In my notebook there is a note taken at the end of August 2015: ‘It will be a cycle about loneliness and melancholy’. The following month, on 24th October 2015, I packed my things, put them in a car and headed towards Bieszczady…
„Why are you working on such a book at all? Why are you writing it? Well, I guess you need it”.
Well, yes. I needed it.
Bieszczady is a South-eastern strip of Poland, where World War II did not finish in 1945. As a result of mass resettlements connected with alteration of Poland’s borders, many people were forced to change their place of living. It is estimated that the interwar Poland (Second Polish Republic) was inhabited by 5 million Ukrainians, out of which over 700 000 remained within the new borders of post-war Poland. Between 1944-46 the first resettlement action took place and 480 thousand Ukrainians were expelled to the Soviet Union territories. During the second action which was called ‘Vistula’ (1947-1950) another 140 000 inhabitants were resettled. The abandoned villages, houses, and synagogues were burnt, orthodox churches were plundered and demolished. Five centuries of Polish-Russian-Jewish history of Bieszczady was about to be wiped out.
In the 1950’s Bieszczady became a mythical land of freedom, the perfect escape, because they were a vacuum. These mountains were an asylum, a distant shelter for outsiders, outcasts, fugitives, and exiles, who chose them as the place where they can meet their own selves, escape the suffocating life.
The protagonists of my photographs arrived in Bieszczady between 1950s and 1980s. Each person came to the mountains for a different reason, none of them have ever left. They chose loneliness in the mountains, escaped their old lives and created their new ‘selves’ from scratch. The common experience and the linking point for my protagonists is the motive of abandonment, resignation from something or someone. They have abandoned their old lives to be alone and they share a specific understanding of freedom. The freedom which is demanding and requires sacrifice, but is constructive at the same time. The people I met and talked to have been confronted and changed by nature, their hands have been damaged by physical labour. The rhythm of their day is completely different to the rhythm of the city; for them the latter one became synonymous with ease and boredom. Mountains are demanding and require determination – they hold no place for weak individuals degenerated by civilisation. My protagonists live in solitude, often without electricity and running water; they have relinquished advancements and comforts of the city. Civilisation gives us something but also takes something away. Freud said that it is based on the rejection of instincts, Bauman added that in the postmodern world gains and losses have swapped places. Postmodern people have sacrificed their security in the name of increased chances – or rather hopes - for happiness.
What is loneliness? What are the consequences of turning away from one’s previous life? Why does one consciously opt for loneliness?