Joanna Borowiec

2021 Non-Professional Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background!

I’m from Poland. I was born in the small town of Krasnystaw. Later I moved with my family to the capital of Poland – Warsaw. I always dreamed of living close to water, and now I live by the sea in Gdynia.

Q: How did you realize that you enjoy photography and capturing pictures?

The bathroom doors were always shut in the home I grew up in and behind them, there was a unique, unknown world. Later I learned that was our darkroom. I still remember the evening when my father took my hand and introduced me to its secrets and magic. Those memories are with me to this day, whenever I look at images appearing on paper in the glow of a red light or when I catch the scent of developed photographs. Although the process is no longer a mystery to me, it continues to be astonishing, cryptical, and brings and a source of exploration. My father is no longer with me but encounters with photography form a bridge between my world and his.

Q: Do you ever have trouble getting inspired? What do you do when moments like this arise?

Like most people, I have better times and worse times in my life. Lows and highs. I have a great need to create and come up with ideas, but it’s hard for me to get started. When that happens, I wait, make notes, and think about what I want to do. Then over time a moment suddenly comes, when I know exactly what I want to do, how to do it and I’ll begin on a new project.

Q: Which aspect of photography would you say was the hardest thing that you had to learn or get used to?

When you talk, sometimes you have to scream to be heard, but when you’re presenting an exciting image, everyone gets silent. A photograph enables me to depict a pure world abounding with tender gestures and even more tender glances, which never perish in the rushing clock of time. It also allows me to immortalize those that are closest to me. Unless it’s destroyed, a photograph can act as a record of no longer existing places and people. Every time we look at it, we breathe life into them. it is beautiful but also difficult, it is difficult to come to terms with the passing of time.

Q: You have been chosen Non-Professional Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year for your work “W was Born in a camp,” a photo series that uncovers the story of a man born in a concentration camp. The subject is painful and shocking, but you managed to bring a sliver of hope and happiness into the series. What inspired you to tell this story through photography?

I knew Jan Chmiel, but only after a time did I learn about his history. He started telling me about the town where he lives – Trawniki. During the war, it housed a labor camp for Jews, liquidated in 1943 as part of the “Erntefest” operation (Jewish prisoners were murdered), as well as an SS training camp. I decided to start a project about this, and Jan took me to these places. He knew about these stories from the stories of his grandfather and father. Suddenly he said: “I was in the camp too. I was born in the camp ” I was shocked that I didn’t know anything about it, he didn’t tell anyone. It turned out that nobody was impressed when he said it. This story fascinated me, I wanted to learn as much as possible, I thought it was unfair. This man has been through so much, and as a child, he could have died or could have been taken from his parents. I think this is a story people must know about. I put down the project about Trawniki and focused the project on Jan. A series of photos and a video recording were created. It was hard to listen to, and the memories touched Jan very much. There were many tears. The great thing is that despite the hardships, facing death and hunger, you can live on and be happy. Enjoy the moment, enjoy what you have. This is what Jan is like.

Q: What was the most difficult thing you experienced when creating this work?

In addition to photography, I also did an interview with the subject of the project. During the recording and listening, there were many emotions, anger appeared, tears came to my eyes from emotion. It is also a story that is forgotten. The young generation has the opportunity to learn how cruel the war and the post-war times were.

Q: Why did you decide on entering this particular series into the IPA?

The story of Jan Chmiel, which I showed, is the story of a man who has gone through a lot in his life. Despite this, he is a happy man who lives normally in a small town. I wanted people all over the world to know about it, that’s why I decided on this story.

Q: What does winning this competition mean to you?

Winning the competition is a great achievement for me. Among the enormous number of submitted applications and wonderful stories, mine was chosen. I am very happy and appreciate it. I have more faith that it makes sense to take pictures and show them. I am also very motivated to create new stories. Winning gives me the opportunity to present myself to a wider audience around the world.

Q: If you could do anything or go anywhere, what would your dream photography project be?

I do not have a dream project and a place where I would like to go. Photography is my great passion which also allows me to enjoy solitude. It gives me shelter and entirely different living space. It enables me to take a peek into the irresponsible aspect of the world. It puts me closer to people but also protects me from them. When a hard day comes and I have no strength to express myself with words, photographs offer silence and space. And step by step, I am arranging tiny pieces to form my own world, which I express with images. I grab the camera in my hand and the whole world, including my own problems, shrinks down to a petite frame and the moment when I press the shutter button. Photography also allows me to be someone I am not: a magician able to freeze this one selected moment.

Q: What good advice would you give to a photographer who is just starting to experiment with photography?

What I find most important in photography are the messages and the symbolism. It is meant to stop us and stir emotions. Photographs are always created in my mind first – I can clearly picture them, their frames, and the selection of technique. Pressing the shutter button is only a formality.

Q: What is next for you, are you working on anything right now?

I carried out projects that I had to postpone due to covid-19. Now I get to go back to them. I also specialize in analog photography, traditional techniques, and alternative photography. I have completed the project “Passage”, which I made using the 19th-century Cyanotype technique. The photos are of large format, made on canvas and paper. Currently, there is an exhibition in Gdynia and I plan to showcase it in more locations. The series is about a personal story, reflection, and metamorphosis that arose during a pandemic. The transition from one state of life to another.