Stefan Szczygieł. His photographic and film work
In addition Szczygieł’s use of the word “space” is not only analogue, but more especially technically digital and mentally virtual. In this way anything and everything becomes imaginable – even the manipulation which is no longer (immediately) recognisable. The picture entitled Warsaw, Przystanek tramwajowy (English: tram stop) is a good example of this surreal but also political and social irritation: for the night-time orange and brown illuminated tram stop in the square is dominated by huge posters, advertisements, business logos and lettering that seem like foreign bodies that have been copied and inserted, and which almost completely dissolve the architectonic space. The square suggests that the centre of the Polish capital has been turned into an overwhelming consumer space. All the signets, posters and banners seem to float visibly above the buildings. Just as in university libraries in the USA, where portraits of presidents are often hung above the bookshelves in order to give us the impression that these gentlemen are the guardians of knowledge, when we look at Szczygieł’s picture we begin to think that business enterprises and their expensive advertising are the rulers of the city.
Even in Szczygieł’s other precisely detailed urban landscapes he always leaves a suspicion of digital changes hanging in the air. The artist is fully aware that he is forcing his viewers to confront his works in a thorough and critical manner. This starts with his spatial manipulations and ends with his manipulation of colours. What is known as artistic freedom in painting is quickly turned into seductive manipulation in photography, for the technical possibilities are becoming increasingly perfect with the result that the changes can no longer be seen. Szczygieł exploits this: for it is precisely their precision, their sharply focused details and background that make the photos seem “honest” and “truthful”. When all’s said and done, everything seems to be displayed right down to the tiniest detail.
Thus Szczygieł distantiates himself from the widespread, naive idea that a landscape is nothing but a piece of nature. “Simple” nature was never “landscape” –he seems to want to say – and this also applies to the history of art. The selection of motifs, the composition and arrangement of elements of nature were the things that made up landscape paintings. Nowadays it is possible to melt the elements into one another by digital processing. This even results in putative images of places in the world that have simply been completely (or for the most part), put together on a computer. These are nothing other than images and sequences of images and pictures of alleged “landscapes” that have been assembled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Looked at the other way around, images of real places – like Szczygieł’s “Tram Stop”, for example – increasingly often give us the impression that we are looking at a computer simulation.