Kamil Śleszyński, a self-taught photographer is a former postman and Bulgarian forklift operator. His interest in photography lies in broadly defined documentary photography and in the evenings, he explores the secrets of the craft of bookbinding. He currently lives and works in Bialystok, Poland.
Śleszyński’s work appeared in the first ever Issue of Untitled Collective back in January of 2017.
What was your approach towards teaching yourself 4x5?
In my case, the sense of isolation is the biggest driving force behind action. Białystok where I have been born and raised is a small town that has limited access to photographic education. As well as this, having been told by people of importance that something cannot be done and that I do not have the right predispositions or knowledge that claims I am unable to do or learn such as thing, enables me to put in allot of hard work to prove these people wrong. This being one of the many reasons in my decision to master the 4x5 camera as well as wanting to work with prisoners and learn the craft of making handmade photo books.
You mention that you are a self-taught photographer, have you considered studying? If so, do you think it would change your style and approach to the medium and your subjects?
On many occasions I have considered begging to learn. Now I just work based on intuition. In some cases, it helps in working quickly, but due to a lack of education, sometimes I cannot justify my decisions, even if I know they are good. I think that a photographic education could help me to systematize the dispersed knowledge that I already have. On the other hand, I'm afraid that a situation where I have too much awareness of what I'm doing will cause me to stop photographing altogether.
What is the meaning of the title Wolka?
In Gypsera, (Polish criminal slang) Wolka means freedom. Grypsera is a distinct nonstandard dialect of the Polish language, used traditionally by recidivist prison inmates. It evolved in the 19th century in the areas of the Russian partition.
Grypsera is constantly evolving to maintain the status of a language understood only by a select group of inmates and not by the wardens or informers. Because of this it is currently one of the lexically richest dialects of the Polish language. Also, it is not possible to prepare a comprehensive dictionary of the dialect since it differs from prison to prison.
How did you come to work with a prison and did you face any
A few years ago I met the director and journalist Dariusz Szada-Borzyszkowski. He was working with prisoners and regularly cast them in performances. I was impressed with his work, and when I saw Our Class (a story about a group of classmates - Poles and Jews - from 1925 to recent times) by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, with Darek’s direction, I decided that I also wanted to work with prisoners. I photographed as an amateur for several years, during which I gained a lot of theoretical knowledge; recently I decided to do it seriously. Dariusz put me in touch with the right people and gave valuable advice, his help greatly accelerated my practice and career. But this is not the whole story; I was interested in prisons for a long time, even before my friendship with Darek. I grew up in the neighbourhood of a prison. I often used to walk near the prison walls and watch the prisoners. They would stand in the windows, bathing in the sun. I wondered why they were behind the walls. This curiosity stayed with me.