Aleksandra Żalińska, But Please Be Careful Out There

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2023 (no website link). Hardcover (21.7 x 28 cm), 98 pages, with 58 black and white photographs. Design by the artist. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: But Please Be Careful Out There is the first photobook by the Polish photographer Aleksandra Żalińska, completed as part of her master’s degree at the University of Fine Arts in Poznań. In an intimate manner, it documents the tender relationship between the artist and her grandmother. Żalińska photographed her grandmother, who became a collaborator in the project, over the period of one year. All of the photographs were shot on film, and Żalińska shared the results with her grandmother, discussing together which images to include in the project. The book was one of two winners of the Photographic Publication of the Year competition at the International Festival of Photography in Łódź.

But Please Be Careful Out There is a hardcover book with a patterned cover and red cloth strip over its spine and corners. The title appears in gold on the red strip and the artist’s name is placed on the back cover. At first glance, it resembles an old fashioned book, or a family album. Fabric with red and white shapes (perhaps a reference to a sofa) is used as the endpapers. Inside all of the photographs appear full bleed, most of the time taking up the entire spread. A short text by the artist appears next to one of the photographs framing the series, and the book easily lays flat.

The visual narrative unfolds in an intimate and tender way, and documents daily routines and precious ordinary moments. The opening spread of the book pairs a color portrait of the artist’s grandmother covering her face with a flower shaped mirror, with a shot of a piece of paper with a handwritten note in Polish, the text of which also serves as the title of the book, “but please be careful out there”. These are grandmother’s words, an expression of warmth and care for her granddaughter. It is followed by a full bleed black and white photo of the grandmother: her face is covered with cucumber slices, as she holds her arms behind her head against a carpet. The next shot in the sequence is a blurred out of focus image of family photographs arranged on the carpet. 

Żalińska’s photographs often appear blurry and grainy, even while the close ups, tender gestures, and unexpected angles reflect the intimacy and lightness of the grandmother-granddaughter relationship. Early in the book there is a photograph of the grandmother’s hand reaching to a cup of tea on the side table. She is seated on a floral-patterned chair which takes up most of the frame, and we can feel the tenderness and warmth in this at first rather mundane shot. Another spread pairs a close up out of focus picture of grandmother’s open mouth with another photo of her as she appears naked holding half of a melon below her belly. As seen in this and other staged images, there is definitely a healthy sense of humor, playfulness, and trust between the artist and her grandmother. 

A number of images from family archives show the grandmother as a young woman. In one she is a teenager and poses in a white dress decorated with flowers. A couple of pages later, we see her in bed reading a book, with a recipe written on top of the print. It is followed by a more recent photograph showing the hands of the photographer and the grandmother shot on a white background, reinforcing the tenderness of their relationship. In another shot, a close up of the grandmother and the artist touching their heads in an intimate moment takes up the entire spread. Żalińska’s face is rather dark, focusing our attention on the grandmother and closeness of this moment. 

As the narrative moves forward, there are photographs of the grandmother writing in her notebook, cutting out dough rounds for dumplings, having a shower, hanging window curtains, or fixing her hair in front of the mirror. There are a number of playful shots, like the one of a close up of the grandmother’s ear decorated with a beautiful earring and a vine of berries over the ear. In another washed out portrait, the grandmother is wearing small goggles and one of them is pulled down revealing her eye looking straight into the camera. The very last photograph shows grandmother’s legs floating in water and the artist’s hand is gently but firmly placed on her knee, symbolizing their supportive connection. 

Żalińska’s series brings to mind a number of notable projects that have looked at family relationships. The Bangladeshi photographer Sarker Protick photographed his grandparents as they navigated old age in the series titled “What Remains”. In his long-term project, Alejandro Kirchuk photographed his grandmother and the effect Alzheimer’s was having on her and her partner and carer, the artist’s grandfather. And most recently, Paul Graham created a tender portrait of his elderly mother in a photobook simply titled Mother.

But Please Be Careful Out There is a small self-sufficient project that compassionately captures the small moments of a loving family relationship. The book is simple yet elegant, offering a universal and timeless window into the of subtle connections of family.

Collector’s POV: Aleksandra Żalińska does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her Instagram page (linked in the sidebar).

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

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