"Poland? ... Why Poland?" My Polish friends seemed to ask often.
"Why not?" was my immediate and flippant response.
I never questioned it. From the moment the job was listed, I knew it would be a tremendous adventure. I had no idea, ... and I was right.
It was a tremendous adventure.
I knew nothing about the country except for the spicy hot-dogs we ate the ballpark. On a promise made by a stranger on the telephone, I sold most of my stuff and flew to an unfamiliar country to become the Photography Editor of the Warsaw Business Journal. My few preconceptions of Poland had come from cold-war propaganda and reports in the American press. The books published in the U.S. were mostly filled with grainy black and white photographs of crumbling factories and depressed people drinking vodka in tiny kitchens. They gave the image of a hungry people beating out a meager existence in a grey landscape of five-year-plan buildings. The reality of Poland presents itself quite differently.
With images of exotic hardships in mine, I was shocked to find American fast-food restaurants sprouting up like mushrooms and shopping malls opening everywhere. The Soviet Poland of my assumptions still exists but is sandwiched between a millennium of rich historical tradition and the yahoo capitalism of the new era. Ten years after the first free elections, plans that had been in the works for a decade were finally being realized and changes were hitting fast. Old styles were quickly giving way to the new. I was lucky to have a job for a weekly business newspaper that sent me from Warsaw to all corners of the country, from Przemysl to Szczecin, from Nysa to Gdansk, from Nowa Sol to Bialystok, and countless stops between. Photojournalistic access got my cameras into many places the general public is not allowed.
At first, I started photographing those things that were exotic to my Western eye. As my understanding of Poland grew, I focused on the transitions in society; contrast between the old and the new ways of doing things, recording ways of life that may be trampled underfoot by the new economy, and manifestations of the corporate economy with the lustre of newness.
In contrast to the depressing, grainy, black and white photographs of Soviet Poland, my camera saw a vibrant colorful European country. I decided to produce a images that would give a more accurate and balanced image of the country. Neither avoiding nor concentrating on the “crumblescapes” left by the old regime. The resulting pictures show Poland in transition, sometimes jubilant, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, but certainly lively, colorful and very different from Western preconceptions.