Stefan Szczygieł. His photographic and film work
That said, it is nothing new that we think of as the world is influenced by the way it is perceived and portrayed by artistic media. We only have to think that, in the 18th century, large estate owners – mostly in England, Western and Central Europe – transformed large areas of land into parks and gardens, designed on patterns shown in landscape paintings. Thus landowners once made sure that artificially designed parks with embankments and hills had horizontal lines that conformed to the borders of their property. In this way the landscape was simulated and manipulated at the time. The estate owners saw themselves as being the personifications of creators of landscapes as well as property owners. To them, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Back to nature” was not only a criticism of civilisation but also of cultivation, a counter movements to the coming Industrial Revolution and also a call to “return to images” that were familiar. But these were no less “artificial”. During the course of industrialisation the landscape began to be exploited and transformed to a hitherto unknown extent. Bridges, dams and factories shot up all over the place, and opencast mining carved up whole swathes of the countryside. The idea of landscape has long been reinterpreted and – as with Szczygieł – it is now more of a “cityscape”. In this way the processes described for landscapes can easily be transferred to describe towns and mega cities today, even though urban developments have different effects and definitions. Stefan Szczygieł’s work plays precisely with these phenomena; with questions of hierarchy and property, the sovereignty of definitions and affiliation, and identity and manipulation, even where he makes no attempt at all to influence his work digitally.
At the same time as Szczygieł was working on his panorama photos he began work on a new small series of photos that he called by the Polish name of Domek (English: little houses/huts). The photos show small, mainly self-built (however, unused or abandoned), decaying allotment dwellings. They suggest a period when people no longer exist in Szczygieł’s imagination and have long since abandoned the surface of the Earth. Nonetheless the things they have left behind them are still rotting there. Getting out into so-called natural surroundings was once seen as an alternative to existing in cramped urban living conditions and the idea was to cultivate nature. Now only transient archaeological relics remain.