Wiktoria Wojciechowska, Short Flashes

JTF (just the facts): Published by Bemojake in 2016 (here). Softcover (with transparent blue plastic sleeve), unbound with blue elastic band, 48 pages, with 28 color reproductions. In an edition of 1000. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Typhoon season poses a particular set of additional trials for everyday workers and commuters in China. Sweaty tropical rains fall in drenching sheets and gale force winds rip at anything not tied down, but amid these often frightening torrential downpours, the back and forth of going to work continues unabated, seemingly oblivious to the challenges posed by Mother Nature. Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean everyone can stay at home and relax.

Wiktoria Wojciechowska’s pictures of these daily migrations in the incessant rain turn this march of tedious misery into something poetic. Taken in Hangzhou and Beijing, her photographs isolate the passing workers on their bicycles and scooters, capturing them for a split second as they zoom by in the darkness. Each one is encased in a colorful plastic poncho to ward off the encroaching elements, with a fragment of a face peeking through the small hole at the top.

Flash lit against the blackness, their faces tell stories of perseverance and drudgery. Grim scowls and exhausted bank looks dominate, with wet hair plastered to foreheads and face masks and scarves covering mouths. In theory, small built-in brims keep the rain away from the wearer’s eyes, but no one seems especially dry or fresh. A few people are captured with their eyes closed like sleepwalking zombies on wheels, and many offer a gimpse of wondering disbelief at the obviously crazy foreigner taking their picture in such dreary circumstances.

Wojciechowska’s photographs were taken with longer exposures than usual, and this technique does two important things – it keeps the fleeting faces sharp and it allows the rest of the image to drift into loose blur, creating motion-induced sweeps and ghosts that elongate in the darkness. In the sparkling rain, the brightly colored raincoats of the commuters are transformed into painterly tents and cocoons, each fold and highlight turned slick and smooth, the eye-popping pinks, yellows, and blues pulled into undulating studies of expressionistic drapery. And when the motion is too fast, echoes of color are left behind, training off into the blackness like indistinct gestural auras or souls trying hard to keep up.

Wrapped in a transparent plastic sleeve not unlike a rain slicker, Wojciechowska’s photobook is big and brash, the images reproduced at a scale that both brings the viewer in close and accents the visual distortions of the motion. Unbound and expansive, it encourages table reading, where the extra large pages can be laid flat and turned with a flourish, each page flip offering a new commuter zooming by.

This is a relatively small and straightforward photographic project, but that simplicity shouldn’t detract from its intelligent execution. Its studies of surface and motion (enhanced by light and wetness) are effortlessly nuanced, and it is a smart example of taking what is given and turning it into something original and personal. As a foreigner in China, Wojciechowska likely had few opportunities to get inside the people and their culture. So she embraced the anonymous bustle of the streets in the drenching rain, and found a silver lining of elusive beauty hiding in the bad weather.

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

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