Wiktoria Wojciechowska – Short Flashes, Newcomer 2015
Passing by in the blink of an eye: Wiktoria Wojciechowska photographed Chinese cyclists riding in the inclement, ongoing rain. She considers her snapshot-like images real portraits, as they speak of the truth of an undisguised moment. In 2015, the Polish photographer received the Newcomer Award for her “Short Flashes” series.
Fleeting moments of everyday life in China, captured during the photographer’s direct experience. The project was shot in 2013 and 2014 during Wojciechowska’s art residencies in Hangzhou and Beijing. Alone, and initially without speaking a word of Chinese, the young photographer explored this new terrain without any means of communicating. However, it was the typhoon season and the roads were flooded by endless rain. Often standing ankle-deep in the water herself, she identified with and felt the anonymity of the nameless cyclists and scooter riders who whizzed past her. This was the source of her idea for giving these people an identity. Only a few people acknowledged the photographer: “They were usually focused on reaching their goal and on dealing with the bad weather. Some of them were smiling, a few came to ask what my purpose was. I was making progress learning Chinese, so after one month I could explain why and what I was doing.”
Her images tell the truth of genuine moments. Because, in contrast to posed and controlled portraits, these spontaneous and discreet exposures show the reality and authenticity that exists between ingrained behavioural patterns. “The title came from the book ‘Traktat o łuskaniu fasoli’ (Treatise on Shelling Beans) by Wiesław Myśliwski, one of my favourite authors,” Wojciechowska explains. “I chose a meaningful quote about the medium of photography and the artefacts captured. Faces ‘conceived in short flashes’ will never be forgotten. This is the power of the images we carry in our memories; and the power of photography is underlined by the moment you press the trigger – the twinkle of an eye or a flash. In ‘Short Flashes’, the flash is a tool that draws each person out of the masses and preserves them as individuals.”
“‘Short Flashes’ are definitely real portraits. Furthermore, they are more real than posed ones.”
“I identify a real portrait with the truth. The truth is in creation – in natural moves and gestures. The truth is when the body is coerced by external conditions, and when thoughts are removed from facial expressions – there is an apparent absence.” And last but not least, colour is also of significance, as the photographer says: “In ‘Short Flashes’, the wet rain jackets seem to freeze in motion. Their hues and shades remind me of the paintings of old masters.”
In retrospect, the series also reports on a social upheaval, as the bicycle is increasingly being replaced by the car, even in China. “My Chinese language teacher asked me, ‘Why are you photographing all these poor people? Only poor people ride bikes.’ It was then that I realized that I had made a series about a particular social group. Nowadays, riding a bicycle or a scooter in China is considered embarrassing. A car is the symbol of a high social status,” the photographer remembers.
(Text updated 2020)
Wiktoria Wojciechowska was born in 1991 in Lublin, Poland, and is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The artist works with photography, video, collage and installation. She has exhibited the “Short Flashes” series internationally in recent years. She lives in Paris and Lublin.