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Czeslaw Siegieda
Polska Britannica

Photographs by Czeslaw Siegieda

Text Jane Rogoyska, Martin Parr

RRB, 2020

Edition of 600 copies

Hardcover

128 pp., 80 b/w illustrations

240 x 285 mm

ISBN 9781916057524

Item #1078

1.380 1078 Sold Out

“I am a missionary when it comes to the value of documentary photography and here is an example of what can be achieved. Getting to know, and to record one small slice of life in Britain so thoroughly and effectively is an achievement that has to be celebrated. Rarely do you encounter a project of such empathy and thoroughness and I am delighted that, forty years after they were taken, these images are finally being published in this handsome book.” — Martin Parr

“It’s always a pleasure, meeting photographers and their work you’re not yet familiar with. Sometimes you fall in love with both instantly. Czeslaw Siegieda is one of them. His photographs from Polish migrants in England are very honest and touching, like himself. I liked it so much, I wanted to look at it every day. A beautiful Czeslaw Siegieda is hanging in my house. And to make it even better, there’s going to be a book with his work.” — Erik Kessels

Czesław Siegieda, born the son of Polish immigrants to England in Leicestershire in 1954, showed an interest in photography from an early age. From his teens he photographed the Polish community he grew up in, moving through fêtes and funerals with an ease only available to an insider.

The images in the book, taken between 1974 and 1981, show the staunchly Catholic traditions and national customs so faithfully maintained by the community as they rebuilt their lives following the trauma suffered during and after the Second World War. Whilst many of Siegieda’s images display a sharp eye for the absurd and all are marked by a visible affection for his subjects, his photographs of his close family are notable for their intimacy. His mother Helena, though physically robust, looks careworn and vulnerable, clutching a bucket of vegetable peelings or a picture of the Virgin Mary like a life raft whilst her husband (Czesław’s stepfather) hovers in the background, as if ready to lend a hand if needed but not wishing to intrude.

For many years the archive remained private, initially out of respect for the sensitivities of his parents’ generation: nervous of their position as ‘guests’ in a foreign land, they were determined not to draw attention to themselves. This initial impulse of discretion soon gave way to the more prosaic demands of life and work. For decades the negatives sat unheeded in a drawer until, in 2018, two years after his mother’s death, Siegieda decided that it was time to bring them out into the world. The process of digitising the archive went hand in hand with the creation of a website and the release of images on social media, posting photographs on Instagram in the expectation that they might be of niche interest to a small number of followers. The response was as overwhelming as it was unexpected; the photographs attracted the attention of many notable photographers, including Martin Parr, who encouraged Siegieda to publicise the work more widely.

Czesław Siegieda (b.1954) was born in a displaced persons camp at Burton on the Wolds in Leicestershire.  Polish is his first language, not starting to learn English until he went to a Catholic school run by nuns when he was five years old. His upbringing was steeped in the Polish traditions of his parents. A photographer from a young age, he went on to study photography at the acclaimed Trent Polytechnic School of Creative Photography in Nottingham (1973 – 1977): lecturers included Paul Hill, Raymond Moore, and John Blakemore, plus visiting lecturers Brett Weston, David Hurn, Nick Hedges, Chris Steele-Perkins, Martin Parr, Danny Lyon, Minor White, Van Deren Coke, and Tim Gidal.

Read more:

British Journal of Photography, The Guardian 

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