July 29, 2022
Photography by Wojciech Karliński
Interview by Melanie Meggs
The clatter of an old train station is more than just a sound - it's a promise of adventure and exploration, the sound of a story unfolding. For Wojciech Karliński, a Polish photographer, the train station has been a source of inspiration. His photographs capture the beauty of the train station in all its complexity, whether it be in its aging form or during transformation.
For his latest project, Wojciech has turned his lens to the train stations of Poland. He wanted to document the small and large stations and edited the images in black and white to highlight their formal and aesthetic sides. Yet, what makes this series unique is the way in which the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the train station experience. As if the stations had suddenly become ghost towns, Wojciech captured the eerie emptiness and the impersonal faces of travelers wearing masks. It became a visual representation of a surreal moment in time, a stark reminder of how much has been lost.
This project marked an emotional challenge for Wojciech, as he grappled with the feelings of alienation and surrealism that came with photographing these empty train stations. Yet, the resulting images are as captivating as ever – they tell a story of a nation in transition, of dreams, nostalgia, and a longing for a return to normality. Through them, Wojciech Karliński paints a vivid picture of how train stations remain an integral part of Poland’s history and culture.
“When using this type of public space, we do not think about its visual side. The time spent in it is focused on getting to the right platform and train. However, this space also has a lyrical face, which I tried to show in monochrome photography. Black and white bring out a slightly different form from these places. More intriguing, surreal and less narrative or sociological.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH WOJCIECH KARLIŃSKI
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Wojciech, please tell us about yourself.
WOJCIECH KARLINSKI: I grew up in Poland ruled by communists. I am the generation of the martial law. In December 1981, I was 17 years old. Like most of my peers at the time, I was convinced that the Soviet Army was about to enter and I would have to become a partisan. Luckily, nothing like that happened, but it seems to me that these events had a strong influence on me. Until I was 12, I grew up in a small town in the north of Poland, then I moved with my parents to Łódź. It is the second largest city in Poland. Very working class, very specific. This is where I got involved with the punk movement and then with the anarchist movement. I have changed my place of residence many times. I travel a lot using public transport. I often changed jobs every now and then, dealing with something else, so far I had a dozen or so professions. Currently, I have been living in Kielce for three years. I am professionally involved in photography.
TPL: What draws you to photography? How did your journey into photography begin?
WK: Honestly, I don't remember what attracted me to photography. I have been doing it more or less intensively almost always. My first camera was the Soviet Smiena 8M, which I took pictures of my classmates. Then I had a Zenit TTL with a canvas shutter for a long time. The fastest time was 1/30 and was made like a T34 tank. However, I was not able to publish the first photo until 1999 in Tygodnik Powszechny. It is a very prestigious magazine in Poland. Then I worked for a long time with the Znak Publishing House. I took pictures for them for the covers of such well-known titles as "The Pianist" by Władysław Szpilman and "Oskar and Pani Róża" by EE Schmitt.
What attracts me to photography? I think mainly with pictures, so photography is a natural form of expression for me.
TPL: Introduce your series "Train Stations in Poland" to us. How and why did this first manifest for you? What is the full story behind the project? What was the inspiration?
WK: The idea of the project appeared during the creation of the series "Long-lasting transition state" (you can see it here: https://dlugotrwalystan.pl ). Railway stations appearing in the photos have become a pretext to show their formal and aesthetic side, not as in the previous project, where the main emphasis was placed on the sociological and social aspects. The photos for "Railway Stations in Poland" were created independently of the previous project, but also during its duration I thought about showing the "different side" of railway stations. When using this type of public space, we do not think about its visual side. The time spent in it is focused on getting to the right platform and train. However, this space also has a lyrical face, which I tried to show in monochrome photography. Black and white bring out a slightly different form from these places. More intriguing, surreal and less narrative or sociological.
TPL: Talk to us about your method of working and experimentation before the final image. Did you know exactly what you wanted from the beginning? How long did each image take to create?
WK: In the beginning, I always only have a hazy outline. The shape of a project is always created while working on it. After about 25% of the photos, I know what the final form will be.
As for a single photo, I always know what it will look like while pressing the shutter button. I take photos with a small Ricoh GR III or Fujifilm X-T4. Working in RAW. I pre-invoke them in Lightroom or Capture One, then export them to Photoshop. I also edit my black and white photos at NIK Silver Efex. I love the APX 100 and APX 400 simulations. Because these are the films I liked to shoot with in the analog era.
TPL: What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now? Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography?
WK: I have answered this question a bit earlier. The first camera. Soviet Smiena 8M. A simple telescope camera. Everything in it was arranged with symbols, clouds, sun, tree and a man. Shooting with it was magical. You never knew what the effect would be, the more so as the films usually had around 50 ASA at that time. I am currently photographing with the Ricoh GR III and Fujifilm X-T4, I love these cameras. Fuji is a machine, a tank. The Ricoh GR III is irreplaceable in places where it can be difficult or confusing to pull out a larger camera. Its poor autofocus is compensated by an excellent matrix and a great lens. Works on APS-C. I don't need a full frame for anything in my photography. And the weight and dimensions of full-frame cameras would only disturb me. I also rarely take pictures with a shallow depth of field. Most often I close down the lens to f4.
Photography is a natural form of expression for me. I love normality and cliché. Ordinary places that many people see everyday without realising their beauty.
TPL: Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us?
WK: I like Alexander Rodchenko, Harry Gruyaert, Stanko Abadzic, and Martin Parr.
TPL: What are some of your most favorite places you find inspiration to explore through your photography, and what draws you there?
WK: I love normality and cliché. Ordinary places that many people see everyday without realising their beauty.
TPL: Are there any other photographic projects you are working on, or have planned in the near future? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
WK: I am now working on the 'Big Dream of Small Towns' series in black and white. It will be a story about housing estates built by communists in small towns. At that time, apartment blocks were a symbol of progress and modernity. They were the pride of small towns, they were boasted about them and shown on postcards. They are no longer a symbol of modernity, but they have not turned into slums either.
Where do I see myself in five years? I would like to do a project about Poles living in Serbia. In five years I would like to be in Serbia and working on it.
TPL: “When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
WK: I am wondering...I'm still photographing or editing photos.”
Wojciech Karliński's series on the train stations of Poland show us how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the experience of travel. His captivating images demonstrate the power of photography to capture moments in time and tell a story. By immersing us in the nostalgia, dreams, and longing of the train station, Wojciech has reminded us of its importance in Polish history and culture. We invite you to take a look at Wojciech Karliński’s work and to explore more of his photography projects.