Poland exists in a state of flux -- a complex society released from communism's grasp twenty years ago that has recently joined the European Union, but a country still very much entangled in the manifestations of opposing political ideologies. It was the surface of these complexities that intrigued Magnum photographer Mark Power when he was commissioned in 2004 to photograph the country's admission into the EU. Such a project always has the potential to never grow beyond a preconceived view from an outsider's perspective -- an approach that is common practice and easy for the uninspired. But Power approached his subject with a sense of humble restraint and let the wind take him on a 5-year journey culminating in a poetic series of visually engaging images.
The title of Power's book, The Sound of Two Songs, refers to the notion that when many melodies are played together, it becomes impossible to hear any one tune clearly -- a lyrical philosophy that gives voice to an extra dimension of intent in Power's photographic journey. And as there are many intricate layers that make up a country's history, this book speaks volumes to the photographer's ability to weave together an intelligent portrayal of Poland's history while also creating a story and landscape that is very much his own.
What resonates with me most when I sit down with The Sound of Two Songs is the blending of a unique series of images depicting the country's construction, its consumerism and even isolation. A photograph of children playing, followed by an image of a construction yard, paired with portrait of a young woman, entwine to give the sense that Poland is very much in a state of change. These symbolic references to youth and to the land's physical alteration are simply powerful. There are also haunting images of empty streets, buildings and forests. Sometimes a lone individual or couple may be placed within these solitary scenes, adding another notion of significance to Power's narrative.
Distinct elements separating this work from a literal documentary are apparent in both the atmospheric and formal qualities in many of the images. A fair number of photographs were taken in a winter's haze -- the ephemeral white background of winter isolating colors and formal aspects in the landscape. The ambiance of the season's environment brings forth a mood that is both disquieting and poetically beautiful.
And while the images themselves carry this book, its design adds the conclusive touch to the book as an object. The cover is simple, red cloth depicting two screen-printed birds in flight, giving away nothing about the eloquent story inside. The thoughtful discreetness of the book's design allows the viewer to engage even more deeply with the photographs themselves and the size and quality of printing are simply stunning and do this body of work well-deserved justice. This is a book of photographs about one country's current state of transition, but it is also one photographer's story of how the rest of us perceive that transition. Power does an exquisite job of creating his own landscape within the context of a much larger international transformation.
Antone Dolezal is a New Mexico based photographer and writer. His photographs have been exhibited and published regionally, and his writing contributions have appeared in various photographic publications, including Finite Foto and photo-eye Magazine. Antone studied photography, art history and writing at the College of Santa Fe, receiving his BFA in 2006. He coordinates photo-eye Magazine's book reviews, organizes monthly photography salons held at the photo-eye Gallery and recently curated an exhibition for the photo-eye Bookstore. When not immersing himself in the photographic world, Antone can be found living and working in the High Desert south of Santa Fe.