The Artful Split between Repossession and Dream
In his work Deceitful Reverence – the winner of the PHmuseum 2018 Grant 3rd Prize – Polish photographer Igor Pisuk chronicles his struggle to detox while reclaiming his identity.
Igor Pisuk's images eschew any fixed sense of time or space. As if in a dream state, blurry memories offer deconstructed sequences of juxtapositions and temporal jumps. A profound intimacy emerges from their fragmented flow, surpassing the bounds of the two-dimensional format and foiling any attempt to pin their meaning down.
We embark on a solitary walk at night only to discover ethereal elements, bodies, figures, lit by a bright flash of lightning. In fact, Pisuk's camera reveals an eclectic mix of scenes: now a street, now a familiar but shady landscape, now the twisted form of a naked body. The scenes are sometimes disturbing, yet they raise questions, ultimately with a reminiscent tone that speaks to the unconscious.
Within the margins of the frame, we move curiously but with caution: Pisuk's shadowy black-and-whites explore a space where tangible boundaries dissolve. The theme of hiding pervades Pisuk’s work, perhaps a subconscious reference to the sense of escape that drugs can provide, the illusory protection from reality.
“Being constantly ‘high’ has caused a permanent state of unreality, of dreaming awake, dissociation from my own feelings, my body or my memory,” Pisuk says. Hence the self-portraits without a face: “They are supposed to give insight into my mental states, when I have flashbacks of the old me, which also help me to come closer and identify with the person that I was and I am now.”
Pisuk's personal line of photographic inquiry covers a wide span of time. It stems from juvenile episodes of addiction that ensnared him for years (he started abusing alcohol in high school and drank for eight years). The first pictures of Deceitful Reverence - a work that earned Pisuk the PHmuseum 2018 Grant 3rd Prize - were taken after a two-month treatment for alcohol addiction in Lodz, Poland.
One night, peering at his naked body in the bathroom mirror, he was bewildered by what he saw: a body so gaunt, exhausted, and thin he no longer recognised himself. He started documenting his path at that moment. “Photography helped me to document those feelings. Thanks to photography I was able to get out from bed in the morning and live through another day. Taking pictures allowed me to overcome my weaknesses and limitations,” he says.
Pisuk has maintained a natural approach when photographing, letting his mood guide the process. What emerges is a personal investigation of the many emotions that have followed him over the years, with Poland and Sweden as a backdrop: isolation, loss, pain, love, affection, abandonment. “It's a personal document where different worlds come into collision,” Pisuk says. “My dreams and visions from the past mix with reality and the reality of the moment, of the personal way of experiencing it. It's a poetic, visual diary.”
The project ultimately played an important role in Pisuk’s renewed awareness of a life clean of drugs. Possibly winking at associations suggested by the title, in Deceitful Reverence even the simplest of gestures - washing oneself, the primal pleasure of cleansing - is transformed into an act of self-concealment. Wielded as if in defense, the shower nozzle drizzles water droplets so dense they hide the figure’s face.
The theme of hiding arises again when the body of a woman conceals the features of the man behind her, a hunched-over husk, devoid of spirit but present in his bare physicality. Pisuk's bony bodies possess an ephemeral presence - their features remain inaccessible behind the shadow of a hood, or in the rapid movements that leave their limbs blurred. Any pre-established order is shattered: neatly displayed family photos stand as a reminder of the composed life we perform, swallowed by the dark void of the mirror that looms over them like a voracious black hole.
But if the initial sense of bewilderment returns, it ultimately becomes familiar. The intricate branches of a shrub lit by the flash capture a precise instant in the night - a shock that energises the dark surroundings. A feel of longing - at first sedated by the calm of the dark, shatters in this instant of revelation.
One after the other, Pisuk's photographs disorient and daze. Inciting the viewer to interpret and infer, a tenuous thread links the moments: they speak of memories, emotions, projections, loneliness, love, isolation - moments of truth for the soul of the photographer and the viewer, in difficult glimpses that we are each left to deal with.
Igor Pisuk is a Polish photographer. Graduated in photography at the Film School Cinematography Departament, in Lodz, Poland, Pisuk is a member of the Atonal Collective which focuses on personal documentary photography. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.
Quotes by Igor Pisuk translated by Agata Pyzik.