I believe that Stigma, by Adam Lach is the most powerful book submitted to F295 for our Photobook Week. Lach spent over two years and had over 50 meetings with a 60 person “family” of Romanian Romas living in an encampment in Wroclaw. He photographed and docmented their daily search and struggle to create a better world for themsevles and their children
The people and conditions photographed by Lach are not the same as those of Koudelka. This is the story of a group of marginalized citizens who struggle every day to meet basic needs while encountering hostile resistance from other citizens and the government.
Stigma is 8.5×6.75,” hardcover, 108 pages, with 49 images, and a print run of 600 copies (250 Polish & 350 English).
I was fortunate to be able to speak to Lach about the work. I hope you enjoy the interview.
TP: Can you tell us about your background and the origins of your interest in photography?
AL: My first exposure to photography was when I was 6-7 years old. My family and I were at the ZOO. My dad borrowed a camera for me to use, but he forgot to tell me that before taking out the exposed film you first need to roll it back. There were no photos.
I don’t remember the details on how it all happened later. I recall saving some money saved up so I bought Russian Zenith camera. They were very popular in Poland. I started to explore photographing people. When I first saw The Americans by Robert Frank and The Mennonites by Larry Towell (even though both projects were different) I realized – this is the type of photography I feel close to.
TP: What path did you take to creating the body of work for Stigma?
AL: Above all, the path of trust. If we want to talk about hidden and silent emotions we need to come through a sort of cognition with “the hero”. It requires a lot of time.
TP: Can you tell us about the experience of making the work?
AL: The Roma community is actually very hermetic and inaccessible to strangers so it’s harder to gain their confidence and become one of them. My Roma welcomed me very warmly – but not right away. It required patience and perseverance. Still, the most important thing I’ve experienced is responsibility for my subjects/hero’s. You must remember that you are responsible for every situation you photograph (and immortalize), every word you pass on, and every picture you take. This doesn’t always seem so obvious among photographers. And the other thing: it is essential to strive toward being and showing sincerity – not only to Roma people, but also in every project or subject you work on.
All my experiences result from the photographic path I’ve already followed, but my character has been a very large influence as well. That is what is judged by the potential subjects in the first place.
TP: What story are you trying to tell with this work?
AL: Seemingly, it’s a trivial story about a family that mixes ordinary and extraordinary emotions. There is no gypsy magic, horses, dances or chanting (things that we already know) – because daily life and the stigma of their identity has covered everything that was once integral for this social group. It’s also a tale about people who try to (somehow) put their life together while fighting with stereotypes and reality. I tried to keep very close tabs on this stigmatized group of people and to give them voice. Every single person deserves that.
TP: Why did you decide to make the Stigma into a book?
AL: Stigma is a very intimate story. It would be hard to find a proper space for it in present media – a way it could be shown as a whole. This story demands a moment of silence: stop, get away from it all and allow it to deeply sink in. The book leads us along two paths – photo and film narration that guides us through an amazing world and allows us to float just a few centimeters above the ground – and written stories that are so raw that they take us back to the ground. Only then, when these two paths are combined, can we fully touch the world of these people. Thanks to the book-form of the project, the Roma can benefit from the voice that has been given to them – the quoted fragments of their stories show the world trough their eyes in completely unaltered way.
TP: What are your feelings regarding the multiple ways – online, phones, prints, books, in a gallery, etc – the public consumes images today?
AL: The world clearly needs photography. The question is if the world understands photography. Luckily, photography thrives and we have the ability to experience it in many different ways. Unfortunately, consumption of photography doesn’t go along with payment for the work put in by the authors. And so photography’s commonness causes the situation when a lot of photographers have to resign from telling their tales about the world. In my opinion, it’s a social-aesthetic problem. I have the impression that in many countries people stopped thinking with images and emotions in them – that casts a shadow on the reception of photography but not on the standards. Therefore, I feel that such actions as exhibitions, publications, meet-the-author events, and festivals improve the aesthetic development of the world.
TP: How do you prefer to look at images – and why?
AL: I like to look calmly. I’m interested in hidden emotions. No scream, laughter or wail – they narrate our every-day reality with vibrant colors. I look at glimpses and a touch.
TP: What project(s) are on your horizon?
AL: Right now – I’m having a rest. Till the end of the year I’m planning to finish my documentary A man who cleans up after death. As to photo-projects – I have several ideas, but now I need to relax and clean my head up before making new decisions.
TP: What drives you to create photographs?
AL: I like telling stories. For me, the picture is the most sensual thing – I like to touch it. I love the silent moments in the picture, the tales it creates. As I said, I admire Larry Towell’s project The Mennonites – for me it’s among the top 10 most important photo-projects in history. When I look at these pictures – I see humanity.
View a short video about the work on Vimeo.
Nominate someone for interview on F295, email your suggestions.
If you enjoy our interviews, articles, and image highlights please consider making a contribution to F295 today.