A massive, antique door to the Green Gate – one of the departments of the Gdansk National Museum – opens slightly. I realize that, suddenly, all the colorful, tourist tumult of The Long Market fades away in a cool hall. I breathe with relief. A spacious interior with an intricate history and of merchant origin has recently turned into the space of art thanks to the Gdansk Gallery of Photography located on the third floor.
I approach an admission desk and a tiny bookstall. My eyes are drawn to the pages of art albums, folders about past exhibitions and postcards with prints of the old Gdansk. They are what they are and don’t pretend to be anything else. The time stops. For as much as one zloty I buy an admission ticket for an exhibition – a miniature piece of cardboard reminding me of a tram ticket. Just like iodine particles, the smell of art fills the air; the smell of quality that needs no acknowledgment for its presence cannot be denied. The entire experience has a sentimental, irresistible charm.
And before the labyrinth of doorways, stairs and elevators takes me to the aesthetic finale of my jaunt – the attic – I avail of its charm with all my might. I discreetly enter the last floor before I get to the gallery and peek through small windows at tourists crowding the Long Market and a rising PURO building against the constantly-changing Granary Island.
I reach the gallery. Everything looks the way I like it. The graphite grayness of the walls forms a perfect background for the sheets of photographs separated by a subtle frame, bringing out the depth of color and emotions captured in sophisticated frames.
Sonia Szóstak * photographs her heroines in well thought-out and meticulously arranged sceneries. At the same time, the entire space is left to models. Middle-class interiors; Alpine hills steeped in a steel coldness; intimate, shadowed rooms and gardens bathed in sunlight…They create the background for a meeting, the background for a relationship between a person being portrayed and a watchful eye of a camera, which becomes an immanent participant in a scene instead of being a narrative-imposing device. In a frame, the artist captures everything that’s being evoked through these intimate situations: awareness of the body unrestrained by conventions, self-confidence and the sharpness of eyes fixed on a camera with impunity. Undoubtedly, the sex of the artist is of great importance: just like mirrors, photographs reflect the equality of the relationship that results from mutual trust and the aesthetic maturity of the photographer and models themselves.
“They pose with props, a bitten apple or a lit cigarette, and their femininity is portrayed not as weakness, but as the representative of strength. Contemporary Venuses are independent and aware of the strength of their femininity – freed from the subjective role imposed on them by the art of old masters. These portraits are by no means similar to ‘Venus Pudica’, i.e. modest Venus. Even if the women represent the ideal proportions and beauty, their eyes reveal the femininity that becomes the subject and not the object of art,” – says the curatorial description of the exhibition.
Szóstak makes references to the language employed by the masters of the picture – both photographic and painterly (Titian, Peter Lindberg, Erwin Olaf) – exquisitely operating with light, composition and, at times, props. Still, she is consistently developing her own and already distinctive style.
“The exhibition ‘The age of innocence’ praises the power of youth, femininity and nature. It’s the result of the search for the spaces of freedom through the beautiful in their twenties.”
I would add – it is a real gem. Rarely can we experience exhibitions emanating with authentic beauty. The beauty that is noble and restores the faith in innocence. And the watchful eye of the camera.
Text, photos: Agata Kiedrowicz, editor-in-chief of PURO Magazine
*Sonia Szóstak - was born in 1990 in Szczecin. She is a graduate of Photography at the Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz. In 2011 she was appreciated by ‘Le Book’ for having produced one of the best magazine-covers, and by ‘Fashion’ Magazine as the ‘best debutante’. In 2015 she won the first place in the ranking of top 10 photographers published by ‘F5. Market trends and culture’ magazine. She was the only Polish artist invited to the renowned Vogue Italia Exhibition in Milan, which was a turning point in her career. Sonia Szóstak’s first photographs appeared in ‘K-Magazine” and she has been collaborating with great success with many prestigious magazines (‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Ozone’, ‘i-D’, ‘Harper's Bazaar’, ‘Interview’). She has also worked on campaigns for well-known brands: Pan Tu Nie Stal, H&M, Levis, Aloha from Deer. Sonia Szóstak’s photographs can be seen at various exhibitions including Poland Fashion Week (2011), the FF Gallery in Lodz (2012), Carla Sozzani Gallery in Milan (2013), during the Month of Photography in No Vodka Art&Design in Berlin (2014), in the Department of Polish Modern Art in the Abbots’ Palace in Oliwa at the exhibition ‘Entangled with Art. Works from the collection of Joanna and Krzysztof Madelski’ (2014), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Wroclaw (2015), LEICA 6x7 Gallery in Warsaw, and MIA Art Fair 2016 in Milan (2016).
Curated by Mariola Balińska
Co-operation: Natalia Jażdżewska, Małgorzata Taraszkiewicz-Zwolicka
Mieczysław Struk - Marshal of Pomeranian Voievodeship
Open: 01.07.2016 - 11.09.2016
Gdańska Galeria Fotografii (Zielona Brama)
Długi Targ 24, Gdańsk