Land by Lorenzo Castore

How does it feel like to become an integral part of a “land” that has never been yours in the past? Lorenzo Castore deals with this complex issue in his latest book Land. And this Land is to be situated in Silesia, a central European region that is located in Poland along the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic. Mr. Castore has resided in Gliwice in the years 1999-2001 and he returned to the region in 2018. Accordingly, his book consists of two different parts (“1999-2001” and “2018”).

 

© Lorenzo Castore

The region has quiet a tormented history. After the second world war, the Soviets have forced the German speaking population in Silesia to move out of Poland. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Polish speaking people had to move to the vacant cities and villages of the displaced Germans, leaving behind their own ancestral lands (sometimes as far as in Ukraine). They started to work in the new industrial facilities or in the mines.

 

© Lorenzo Castore

Wojciech Nowicki, a silezian author himself, sheds his light on what it feels like to be a Pole from Silesia in a text that is separating the two parts: “This earth was no one’s” ….”nothing there was mine, everything was alien and short-lived“…”it’s a matter of roots, mine have been pulled out from under me“. It is understood that the people from Silesia are living in a vacuum, that they remain foreigners in their own country. But also that they write a new history on their new land. They are re-writing their land. The author concludes that the whole region can be read as a palimpsest. “I am looking for layers. Gliwice, Silesia, it is plainly evident, are a palimpsest – they speak many languages, many architectural orders, epochs, cultures at once.

 

© Lorenzo Castore

In the first part (“1999-2001”), we see Silesia in the decade after the collapse of communism. Typically, statues that are glorifying the virtues of the proletarians are dismantled and stored away out of sight. Most factories are out of business but the miners still descend into the mines to do what they have been told to do since having settled there. The landscape is barren and bleak, waiting for an uncertain future. Apart from the first Marlboro billboards, there are not yet many signs from a consumerist society. Poland is not yet a member of the European Union after all.

 

© Lorenzo Castore

It seems that in 1999 the centre of life still is situated in the local neighbourhood. When off duty, the miners share their cigarettes and alcohol in the public space. I like the photographs of the guy who is sleeping in the neon light of a bus station at night. First we see him in close up, than we see the larger picture, the desolateness of the situation. But the story also reveals many instants of happiness. In the summer, families gather for picknick and swimming in a pond between the grey, degraded appartment blocks. Inside the tiny appartments that always remain freakingly spick-and-span, there is not much privacy. Luckily, from Mr. Castore’s story we learn that if you want to be alone with your favourite girl from the block you can always invite her for a ride in your car.

 

© Lorenzo Castore

In the second part of the book (“2018”), we don’t see the girl from the car any more. The photographer is now focussing on new and totally different types of passersby. He has the gift to come very close to them, as if he has become a Silezian himself. We see some of the last miners that are still working. Also beautiful portraits of young people that are friends, siblings, schoolmates. We also see Lech Majevski (film and theatre director, writer, poet, and painter) or the director of the museum in Gliwice.

© Lorenzo Castore

Poland has been a member state of EU for more than a decade now. New “layers” have become visible in the landscape and in the population. We see many young people wearing casual, US-style street wear, also English language tattoos. Some adhere new subcultures inspired by underground music. New counter-cultures too.

© Lorenzo Castore

What I love about “Land” is that you can read also the book as a palimpsest. It is as if the author felt the need to rewrite the story of his first stay. Just like the new Silesian society, the style of the second part has become more dynamic. The layout is changing all the time. One of the images is spread over the verso side of the page. We see some images that are composed as collages. Interesting! Also when it comes to sequencing, the potential of the photobook is explored, is pushed. It makes that parts of the sequence start to move before our eyes. The narrative is complex, dynamic and raises questions. It wonderfully meets the need among Poles to have their country explained in a more truthful way. (Mr. Nowicki writes : “we feel more and more compelled to explain this country to ourselves“). In times when the ruling, political class in Poland is rewriting the country’s history in a one-dimensional way, this is a brave choice of the author and his publisher, Warsaw based BLOW UP PRESS. Very, very good book!

 

© Lorenzo Castore