MILACH X STUDIO
Photo shoot of the STUDIO team for the conclusion of the anniversary year.
In 2022 STUDIO invited a renowned Polish photographer and visual artist Rafał Milach to collaborate, entrusting him with photographing the artistic team in the spaces usually inaccessible to the audience.
The facts are as follows:
We turned 50 years old.
We are a happy if complicated hybrid: a theatre and a gallery. This is the way Józef Szajna wanted it.
Our patron is Witkacy.
We have lived through a lot.
Where are we today?
Rafał Milach’s photo session is an attempt to answer this question. And a kind of diagnosis. In creating the portraits of the STUDIO team members, Milach tries to capture those who are hyperactive, and those who are strangely calm; those who are running and those who paused to start moving a moment later. The encounter with the STUDIO Theatre team is equally a record of his presence in the theatre. Milach observes people, asks about their opinions, selects appropriate space for them which sometimes may not be comfortable. The point is to find a space where for a moment we are ourselves. A photographer enters and we are no longer ourselves. But for a fraction of a second we managed to exist between life and portrait. Something from Shakesepare (“Actors have come!”) and something from Brecht (the effect of foreignness), but also: “Theatre needs no other passport than fun”.
The choice was obvious. We wanted to work with Rafał Milach who has an extraordinary ability to relate to the place and people he photographs. Going into this round anniversary year we knew that we wanted to tell the story of both the PLACE and the PEOPLE who has been representing it on stage. Some for 50 years, other for just a few months. On equal terms. Following in the footsteps of eminent photographers who documented our stages, Rafał Milach created portraits that convey the unique, hybrid character of STUDIO – director Roman Osadnik emphasises.
Rafał Milach is the photographer of the periphery and it is not because he comes from Gliwice. Although his background has a profound meaning in this context. It is, above all, a kind of philosophical attitude towards the world and people he photographs. Milach looks at people far from the so-called “centre”, far from power. This way of thinking is especially close to our hearts. This is why instead of a sterile photography atelier, the photos of the team were taken in the most hidden corners of the theatre, far from the lights of the main stage – remarks Marta Sputowska, initiator and producer of the photo shoot.
Rafał Milach (1978) photographer, visual artist, activist and lecturer, associated member of Magnum Photos. He is interested in subjects concerning systemic oppression and socio-political tensions in the region of the former Soviet Bloc. Author of photogaphic publications that take a critical look at the systems of control and strategies of protest. Professor of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School in Katowice. Winner of the World Press Photo, finalist of Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and “Polityka” Passport award. Co-founder of the collectives the Archive of Public Protests and Sputnik Photos. Numerous exhibitions of his work were held in Poland and abroad. His photographs are featured in the collection of such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, and the ING Polish Art Foundation. In 2019, in the exhibition “Oscillations”, Studio Gallery presented the work of Rafał Milach and the beginnings of the Archive of Public Protests, and in 2021 a special presentation of photographs that make up the APP was organised in the Parade Square. In 2022, alongside the shoot for STUDIO, Rafał Milach executed a photo session for the inauguration of the new season at the Paris Opera.
QUESTIONS FOR MILACH
You are among the most recognisable Polish photographers, as well as the only Pole in the legendary Magnum agency. We will not ask you about your CV. So let me ask a more difficult question. Who is Rafał Milach?
RM: I don’t know and I hope I won’t find out any time soon. I’m more interested in what is Rafał Milach looking for than in who he actually is. And this is much more exciting.
So what is Rafał Milach looking for?
It’s more about the process itself, which is open. It keeps me mindful and flexible all the time. It forces me to look for various ways of talking about problems which are socially important.
In 2020, Studio Gallery organised your exhibition “Oscillations”. Last year you were also present in the Parade Square (STUDIO summer programming) with your APP project. Do you feel a connection to this place?
Definitely yes. Not only to Studio Theatre and Gallery, but to the Parade Square and the Palace of Culture and Science in general. I like this place. I had an exhibition here, now I’m photographing in the theatre, but what is equally important for me is what happens around the Palace of Culture. Many protests that I photographed were held in the Parade Square. For example, I took photos of the spot of Piotr Szczęsny’s self-immolation a day after that tragic event. It was a very important experience for me. I don’t choose this location on purpose, but it’s true that I gravitate to and around the square in many different circumstances.
In the anniversary year, STUDIO commissioned you to take the portrait photos of the artistic team. Was that the first project of this kind in the theatre for you? This year you also worked for the Paris Opera.
Indeed, it is the first experience of that kind for me. Working for STUDIO differed from what I did for the Paris Opera in that in Paris I could photograph people but in such a way that they could not be identified. Whereas in STUDIO I was tasked to photograph people in relation to their space. That was the premise of the portrait session: on the one hand a photo in space, and on the other hand a classic portrait featuring the actor’s face. In a rawer version, with a strong frontal flash.
Actresses and actors you photograph are deeply rooted in space. Sometimes they are hardly visible. The people and the place are unified. Is that your personal way of telling the story?
Studio actors and actresses are connected to this place; they actually ARE this place. Hence the idea to integrate them with the theatre space. Protagonists of the photos are important even though sometimes they take only a small portion of the shot, the rest being the rehearsal rooms, smoking room, main stage wings, corridors and bathrooms around them. I wanted to create a series which would open the theatre backstage for people who don’t usually have access to it. Just like I don’t. I visited all hidden corners of the theatre, and there are quite a few. And it was fascinating. I tried to work out a concept which would be interesting for me as a person who doesn’t belong to this world.
The dynamics of the human-space relationship was differenct in each case. Each shoot was a three-sided negotiation between the photographer, the actor or actress, and the space. Some shots were precisely directed and planned, while others were pure improvisation.
Due to the specificity of the theatre operations, the project took a long time to complete. The first conversations took place at the beginning of the year! We joke that you have become our staff photographer. So perhaps this is not the end of our collaboration?
I’m not a theatre photographer, although in the case of the shoot for STUDIO I see my “outsider” perspective as an advantage. Such collisions of strange spaces can be very interesting, so I don’t rule out future projects for the theatre.
Bożena Józwiak, Ewa Jaśkiewicz