Poles Apart’ started with my dissertation for a Documentary Photography programme at university and has continued on through this year. It is a story of Polish parents and their children in the growing Polish community in the UK. Poland is my homeland and it is my story too.
The European Union’s enlargement and the opening of UK borders to the people of the eight newest European Union members in May of 2004, initiated the biggest migration wave Great Britain has ever experienced. Since then, the migration phenomenon had started to appear on the front pages of national and international newspapers, and become one of the main topics of discussion on television. The picture created by the media had been one of an endless exodus of millions from the Eastern Europe.
I met Mirek Cieslar in Poland. It was around ten years ago, before the European border policy changed. We were introduced by a mutual friend of ours. We both come from the same area in Poland and at that time we were both already living in the UK. When the idea of doing a story on Polish community emerged, I knew I was going to ask Mirek to show me his life.
When we first met I remember him telling me this touching story about his poor life in Poland before he made a move to the UK, about his sons eating only bread with onion at times, because that was all he could afford to give them. He then told me about his harsh beginnings in the UK, that sounded so familiar to my own life struggling to settle and make my way in the UK and, in a way, I felt my pictures of his life would somehow also reflect my personal experiences.
I started photographing his family in 2008. Over the span of five years I visited the Mirek and his family many times in Boston, Lincolnshire as well as in their wooden house in Poland, where they invited me to photograph them on the rare occasions they returned in school holidays as a family to see their relatives and friends. They became not only a subject of my photographs but also very good friends of mine. They showed me their day-to-day battles with life, with unemployment, sickness and sometimes the hostility aimed at them in the UK as part of the Polish daispora. They have shared with me their plans, interests, their fears and beliefs and I have always found the warmth and love of a true family in their house.
What was originally meant to be a general look at a serious subject of migration, turned out to be an intimate story of one Polish family living in England, trying to adopt its ways and make their lives in a strange country whilst fueled with nostalgia and a longing to return home to the rural lifestyle they had left behind.
Soundtrack chosen by Mirek
I Will Honour You – Trebunie Tutki & Twinkle Brothers
(Polish lyrics translated below)
EVEN if you remain all alone don’t let anyone break you,
stay true to your honour every day,
never torment weaker ones, wish people well,
always keep your word, reign with justice.
I will honour you…
I shall not bow but to the peaks of Tatra mountains,
the Earth and the Sky are with you so do not fear anything.
Your honour lies in not ever stealing, and not being a burden to others,
let your head guide your conscience.
I will honour you…
A day will come when you have to give everything
for this one idea, the greatest treasure,
then let us again stand up boldly
For to change this world, one life is not enough.
I shall not bow but to the peaks of Tatra mountains.