Arkadiusz Gola is inseparably linked with his native Upper Silesia. A region in which Polish, Czech, German and Austrian influences intermingled for centuries, which went through a turbulent history and experienced the expansion and decline of heavy industry. A region well known as the Black Land because of its mining character. A region that Gola has been systematically depicting in his photographs for three decades, not only as black, but as black and white, as it shows the positive changes which brought three decades after the fall of the communist regime. In his raw black and white images, we see not only a devastated landscape with heaps resembling lunar craters, closed mines and factories, spit-out pubs, drunks sleeping on the street or at the train station, but also people who seek for beauty and constantly decorate their houses with flowers and statues of the Virgin Mary. Children for whom heaps have become a playground full of adventure. Women from the mines who despite difficult conditions, protective helmets and overalls, managed to retain some of their charm. Neighbours from the workers’ colony who unlike most of the inhabitants, meet from the blocks of flats, have fun, eat and drink together.
The photographer is not an idealist, he often uncompromisingly captures what is superficial and empty, but from his images we perceive a characteristic respect for those people. Gola’s style is gradually moving from a classical humanistic documentary to a more subjective conception of documentary photography with a large space for pictorial symbols. There is an important message in his photographs, which is open to the viewers’ own interpretation. Repetitive scenes, but also banal situations, often become metaphors of fundamental features of life. Gola’s photos radiate respect for people who have failed to succeed in today’s commercial world. These people are often caught in the most ordinary moments of everyday life.
The heroes of these photographs often live in very unflattering conditions. We would expect people in the photos to be sad, disappointed, plunged into the depths of depression. However, Gola introduces us to a world in which one is deprived of any chance of achieving the so-called “Life success”, but he can still fi nd very deeply hidden values in his life. Like an elderly lady with curlers on her head and an optimistic smile on her face, sitting in the kitchen of her apartment decorated with plastic flowers. This smile may seem a little inappropriate to us, because we cannot imagine how he can still maintain a positive approach towards life in such conditions. However, our hero proves to us that this is not only possible but also necessary. For happiness, there are no objective conditions, but only our ability to perceive the joy of all these little inconspicuous moments that make our lives what they truly are.
Arkadiusz Gola’s photographs are about people who have not been asked where and when they would like to be born, but who have to live in a place and in the time, where you have more luck in degradation than in growing of your human personalities. Make yourself up with a simple and stereotypical evaluation and the ability to fi nd the answer to the question of how to live your life with dignity and with a sense of meaning even in those other pleasing conditions. Arkadiusz Gola’s photographs help us appreciate people who were not given the chance to experience “success in life”, but who show us how to fight for a simple sense of meaning and value in our own lives. It is a very valuable lesson and we need to remember whenever it seems that we can no longer go and that our lives are too difficult. All you have to do is look at Gola’s picture of an elderly lady in the curlersand return her sincere smile.

Vladimir Birgus and Michał Szalast
Exhibition curators

Arkadiusz Gola (b. 1972) is based in Zabrze, Poland. He graduated from the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University in Opava and is currently a pedagogue of this school. He’s engaged in documentary photography, specifically focusing on the changes occurring in Silesian society after 1989. He has been a photojournalist since 1991. Arkadiusz Gola is a winner of numerous awards, book author and throughout his carreer he has exhibited in Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

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