Photographer Zuza Krajewska captures the intersection between boyhood and adulthood with her series IMAGO
Imago – [entomology] the final and fully developed adult stage of an insect, typically winged..

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From Turkish carpets to the smell of lilac, there are a number of things which have influenced Polish photographer and filmmaker Zuza Krajewska’s entrancing aesthetic. A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, Krajewska has built a reputation for both striking and unconventional images throughout both her fashion and art photography. There is a cinematic quality to her work, particularly within her art photography as she directs her lens on people and their stories, capturing an unexpected facet of their beauty. With solo exhibitions in Warsaw, Paris, and London, her body of work has defied convention.

For her series IMAGO, Krajewska has spent time visiting the juvenile detention center Studzieniec. Through images taken within a year’s time, Krajewska was able to develop a bond with the boys, capturing the delicate line between boyhood and the turbulent aspects of life which led them to the borstal. An unconventional beauty permeates throughout IMAGO as the boys hang between childhood and adulthood.

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How has your day been? Are you in Warsaw right now?

It has been a very long day. We had breakfast with my daughter Lula and my boyfriend Adaś, a day as usual. Later, with my assistant Olek, we went for a photo shoot. We were working on a mobile company commercial with TV and theatre celebrities. Afterwards we had a casting with hoodies and fittings for UEG campaign inspired by the IMAGO series. My ordinary day is very varied.

What are some childhood memories of things that you feel have impacted your photographic aesthetic?

I mostly remember colour palette including pink, light blue, faded colours of the Communist era in Poland, Turkish carpets, polished furniture and green dado of my grandfather's workshop which employed boys in IMAGO style. My grandmother was a true lady, such as American women in the 1950s, but living in a countryside town in Eastern Europe. She adored floral window curtains and porn on RTL cable TV. Summer at her house smelled of lilac and I still picture it in the pale peach colour of deckchairs, polyester swimsuits and enamel dishes. I remember well my childhood spent in an ordinary housing estate consisting of large block of flats typical of the Communist era in Poland. There was a bench where I spent my leisure time sitting with boys. My memories include first Coca-Cola cans, strong make-ups and Western clothes - spiky shoes, first denim jackets. I could keep on talking about it for hours.

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When did you start taking photographs? And why did you continue?

I took up photography after my father had given me my first Zenith camera. Then I made my beloved friend, Agata Nowicka, undress and pushed her into the sea wearing only tights. Taking photos is my escape from reality. I always lose time sense. It is a very exciting, soothing and relaxing experience. I think it is the only activity I have not been bored with yet. 

Can you tell me about any photos you’ve seen throughout life that have really stayed with you?

"The Three Graces" by Sally Mann, a mother and her daughters. First and the only photo ever that made me cry. The photo series by Zofia Rydel "Zapis socjologiczny" about life in Poland in the 1980s, with amazing Polish landscapes and faces. Roger Ballen and his extraordinary portraits. Helmut Newton - June's portraits, Wolfgang Tillmans and the couple of friends sitting on a tree, Teller's auto portraits. 

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I am so fascinated by the Imago series. What led you to these boys?

Curiosity. I wanted to observe how evil is performed by teenagers and to witness where it derives from. Do you know what I have seen? Bad parenting, unwieldy state, inappropriate upbringing. Very rarely do bad people end up in a borstal. It is the place for unloved and neglected children. 

Over what span of time are the images from? 

It is a series of photos depicting children, taken within a year. I started a year ago I am still working on it.

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Can you tell me about the friendships or bonds you might have developed after spending time with the boys?

I have become an aunt/mother for five or six of them. I am doing my best to help them. I have already sold first series and a half of the second and third one. I donated money to the boys as an allowance. I am aware some of it is spent on alcohol and drugs but I hope it will help few of them. Time will tell. 

Is there any one specific photograph from Imago that really stands out to you?

The portrait of twins. It is most touching as one of them has already passed away. The one hiding his face. I feel weird looking at that photo. I start to think they could have been my children. One of them drowned on a borstal pass after they had left to visit their parents. Can you imagine it? Only one returned. That portrait is the essence of the whole IMAGO project.

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Are you still in touch with them? Are you still photographing them?

Yes, I visit Studzieniec frequently. I am in touch with some boys in their new life, too. You will be able to see it in the photo album that comes out soon by Kahl Editions. I am truly thankful for this publishing. It will be a reminder of the IMAGO project. I also requested to publish it here. I want it to be on a shelf in Poland so that Polish kids and their parents could read those stories. 

What things populate your creative world? You have such a strong aesthetic.

Tough question. Contrary to my commercial work, I want my photography remain simple aesthetically. I often hear they resemble paintings. I am sometimes told they look like film scenes. It is difficult for me to define. I just see images and try to capture them.

What are you working on next that you’re most excited about?

Next project is much more difficult. I am in the phase of making research. I will keep you informed as soon as the first photo is taken. I focus on people and their stories as always.

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Zuza's work will be included in the group exhibition “Golden Boundaries” at Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Centre
from December 12 – March 18  https://capacenter.hu/en/

The Imago photo album is available at: http://www.kahleditions.com/shop/

Text: J.L. Sirisuk

All photographs courtesy and copyright: Zuza Krajewska