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AN EMAIL FROM POLAND
“The women have different histories but they all have one thing in common — they all just wanted to have nice portraits,” read the email from Edyta Ganc.
Well, Edyta nailed it. Ganc’s portraits are nice. But, they’re much more than nice; they’re rather formidable. They emerge from a straightforward approach to the prison by Ganc and the simplest of aims. The variety among the portraits is impressive. I immediately emailed Ganc insistent that I share the series, titled Borderline, here, with you.
“I helped them to look attractive by inviting a professional make-up artist,” continued the email. “I also prepared clothes for them … mainly from my private wardrobe.”
Ganc has succeeded twice over; for the women prisoners, she has made beautiful portraits, and for us, she has made poignant portraits to mull over. Ganc’s moments are noticeably heavy and to capture that is a rare skill. These portraits prick my curiosity. Whatever the histories of these women are, I am eager to know.
[Scroll down for our brief Q&A]
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
PP: Why did you want to make portraits of the women?
Edyta Ganc (EG): I was always interested in histories of people that are somewhere else, beyond “normal” circle of society. And are considered: outsiders, freaks, strangers. I was to them as I wanted to show their humanity and normality.
PP: What is the full name of the prison?
EG: Areszt Śledczy Warszawa Grochów, which translates as ‘Warsaw Grochow Investigation Arrest.’ Grochów is a district of Warsaw.
PP: How did you gain access?
EG: I made a phone call to the press officer and talked to him about the aim of the project: to photograph the women in the ways they wanted to be presented — nicely dressed and with professional make up. I invited my friend, who is a make-up artist and she agreed to help me. When I got approval, I just had to write a statement about the project and my aims and gained access easily.
PP: How often did you visit?
EG: I started in January and finished in April 2013. My friend Kasia and I visited Areszt once, twice a week.
PP: What did the women do during the days in the prison? Are they involved in programs, work, education and/or other rehabilitation?
EG: I heard a lot of complaints that they could not leave the prison cell and do something interesting. They had some regular meetings with one cultural foundation but they weren’t really interested. The told me they would prefer career or craft courses. Something practical they could learn and gain the professional background – and use when they are free.
PP: What sort of crimes are these women in your photographs imprisoned for? Are they Polish citizens or from other countries?
EG: They are all Polish. Imprisoned mainly for robbery. Most of them were drug addicts and started to steal to have money for drugs. Some of them didnt tell me what was the reason. I wasn’t asking.
PP: You mentioned they all have individual stories. I expect they’ve had tough lives. Do you see them as perpetrators or victims or a mix of both?
EG: I see them as real women who had some problems with their life and now try to fix it. Some of them want to have better future and need to change. Whereas some don’t care and won’t change anything.
[Continue reading below]
PP: How many prints were you able to give each woman. What did they use them for?
EG: They asked for prints to send them to their relatives. I printed 3 copies for each of them but now i think it is not enough. I am going to send more.
PP: Are photographs rare in the prison? Are there any other opportunities for the women to have their photograph taken?
EG: Not really. It is rather rare thing.
PP: What did the guards at the prison think of your project and you visiting with your camera?
EG: They were really helpful. Of course, there were some situations I felt they wanted me to finish, leave and no longer disturb things, but I pretended I didnt notice it.
PP: Are Polish women’s prisons safe, sanitary places?
EG: Rather, yes. There are two types of cells. Closed — for women inprisoned several times, and half closed — for women imprisoned for the first time. The seconed ones have toilets with showers. First ones have only toilets and basins.
PP: Can Polish prisons improve or are they doing a good job?
EG: They could improve with their provision of education, courses, therapies, but generally I can’t complain.
PP: How do Polish people generally think about prisons and prisoners?
EG: They are afraid. They dont want to socialize with these people.
PP: Anything else you’d like to say?
EG: I hope these women will take part in vernissage. It will be the occasion to go out.
– fin –
Edyta Ganc based in Warsaw, Poland has a Masters Degree in Theater from the Jagiellonian University and later graduated from Camerimage Film School, Academy of Photography and Laboratory of Reportage, at the University of Warsaw. She is drawn to social justice and has led many photography workshops for children and teenagers. Ganc is co-founder of the Polish photography collective Spoldzielnia Dokumentalna.
WOMEN IN PRISON, IN PHOTOGRAPHY, ACROSS THE GLOBE
Globally: Jane Evelyn Atwood’s ‘Too Much Time’