Jarosław Czechowicz

Grasping At The World

Review taken from the website krytycznymokiem.blogspot.com

It is difficult to describe what is seen here. Difficulties in interpreting this album will be all the greater since all commentaries should emerge while watching images that are intense, clear, often shocking, but unpretentiously real and sharp, owing that not to the sharpness of the lens, but rather to the synesthetic sensibility of the author, who – by publishing this book – erects a perennial monument to himself.

Accompanying photos and commentaries attest to the fact that Paweł Daniel Zalewski, despite his illness, his suspended death sentence, he will never die, because he will leave a testimony of his peculiar, dark outlook on reality. While choosing the camera as a weapon to battle his own demise, he photographs death in its different aspects. He chronicles the journey that is an escape from his own private end. Gdzie śmierć nie sięga compulsively grasps at the world to keep it forever while presenting its dark, rarely exposed side. All of this to be recorded in memory – mostly one’s own memory, but also that of the closest ones, and maybe those who will browse through his photos and try to find the connections between what is seen and the fragments of his published works. This is my first overview of an album publication, mainly because it is not an ordinary album. It is a testimony of a dramatic journey towards cognition, taming death, and forgiving an ending life, which – after all – has so many colors worth showing.

In the introduction, Zalewski mentions photo techniques he applied on his numerous journeys. “The photos were made in a hurry, without hesitation, barely framed, on a hunch, guided by emotions, without a thoughtful approach to the subject. This also constitutes ‘grasping at the world’”. He did not anticipate or plan, didn’t create a vision of what he’s about to shoot. He most definitely did not care about creating the postcard landscapes we all know. He dubbed these photos “earthworks heaped up with personal emotions”. He added fragments of short stories and the novel Bez pamięci, but only those that deal with remembering. Paweł Daniel Zalewski wants to be remembered clearly, in words and images. Without political correctness, contrived gentleness, or forcing the viewer to be moved in a predictable manner. It is a fairly dark publication, but also original, since it depicts life we often have no clue about. Its growth and demise, its becoming, its various philosophies, and an often inconceivable logic. The only thing left to do is to create a short guide of Gdzie śmierć nie sięga and leave any kind of reflection to those who decide to open this album.

First – Mongolia. They depict what can be seen on all of the images from the country – the endless elements of earth and sky combined, impact the imagination as strongly as the simplicity and naturalism of the everyday Mongolian life captured on photos, which become true life testimonies. There’s a shepherd child with a bump on its head – we know he’s no longer among the living. There are human portraits – expressive to the point of naturalism, sometimes devoid of sharpness and a clear pronunciation. We watch the celebrations of the three-day long Naadan holiday, but we also have the opportunity to be affected by the photos of the ritual slaughter of horses. Radiators sticking from the sand are as puzzling as the manner, in which civilization enters the world of steppes and yurts. Where no one really wants it. Where a part of this wild Asian country is dying as we speak.

Another photo journey leads to India. These are probably the most controversial images – they depict funeral pyres or a decomposing corpse in the waters of the Ganges. There are defecating children, a manure workshop, the absurdities of the Indian railway system, and ever-present poverty, in stark contrast to the vivid colors of saris and faces that experienced ruination other than that happening in the capitalist race for money and possessions. Here, death greets life full of optimism. Here, colors face cruel shots that cannot be presented colorfully. Zalewski’s India is a place, where one meets death, in its gentle, awaited, obvious version, ever-present in a world where millions of people live in harmony despite the inhumane conditions they were born into.

Cuba is where the cover photo of a black boy with a black horse comes from. Zalewski presents its unusual shapes and colors, ironically referencing the cult of Castro and the system that worships itself, even though it is falling into ruin. The author devotes more attention, has more heart and some inexplicable sensibility towards Peru. That’s where we see unusual sights at great heights; their allure is slightly diminished when one has to battle altitude sickness.

After that, we return to Asia again. Thai photographic culinary feasts and images of bodies for sale next to houses for ghosts and monks who were caught doing small but dirty deeds. There’s Sri Lanka, with its threat of annihilation by tsunami, welcoming visitors with the vision of death and mourning in white. There’s net fishermen and tea hills; time is arrested and closed here, just like in India; after all, it’s a similar culture that has similar ways of dealing with the end and everything it can mean.

There are also images from Arabic countries – an Egyptian city where life happens among debris, and the Moroccan reluctance to be photographed, as it allegedly steals one’s life. Paweł Daniel Zalewski tries to capture moments no traditional tourist would have any idea about. There’s rawness and bitterness in his photos, but also an unparalleled ability to quickly capture everything that’s really crucial, but cannot be seen by even a keen observer.

It is a worthy testimony to one’s own humanity, which approaches what is dark and hidden from the eyes of others. Zalewski can be called a cheeky voyeur. You may question the need for several shots for various reasons. You may wonder whether the commentary contains a certain superiority, too much irony, an excessive desire to place oneself above poverty, for which the paupers are rarely responsible. I think Paweł Daniel Zalewski appears here as a photographer of the world’s margin. Vigilant, attentive and determined to see something that others do not see. In this album, the symbolism of death is as varied as the shots and circumstances in which it arrives. This publication is to be a protest against the more powerful, so that the photos posted in the publication remain in the memory of the recipient forever. At least a part of them. The clearest ones taken perhaps only by an unlikely accident.


Two of my favorite forms of expression – reporting and street photography. The album is brilliant, very similar to your way of looking at the world. I enjoy such brutal realism; it is unprocessed unlike almost anything in photography today. And the pictures are very good. That greyness, the poverty, the dirt – it’s a collection different from the hundreds of others found in bookstores and the internet. This material only confirms my suspicion that all other albums are a photomontage 😉

Lidia Rafa, translator (in a letter to the author)

An album hastily drawn with a pen and lens in the waiting room, where one tries to capture the world in its here and now, with a blaze of colors, tangled shapes, sounds, meanings and flavors. Dates lose their significance, the total miles traveled are not counted, and the will is not burdened by any mission – the most important thing now is tasting and experiencing moments, places, meetings. Where death cannot reach is a special documentation of the passion for life. A mosaic of personal travel into the deep and straight ahead.

Katarzyna Bereta, doctor of humanities, literary scientist, photographer

Excellent material! I say this off the top of my head, not even aware of the marketing potential in it. Have you ruled out any discussions and potential remodeling of the content? Please do not worry, I don’t want to place you in an inconvenient framework and do not plan on softening, diluting or sugarcoating this material.

Michał Kucharski, editor of Carta Blanca

Hunger, misery, the struggle for existence. Trash, clutter, sickly bodies and crushed souls – and intoxicatingly beautiful scenery in the background. It all sticks with you. For long. Or maybe even forever.

Wojciech Wiercioch, writer

What is this book about? Anyone can find this out on their own. It will be easier to say what it is not about. It is definitely far from being a typical album. Someone once called me a photographer of poverty, a gourmand of color, a scavenger of surrealism, an artist of astral anointing. I hope that our pictures in this book are seen as raw and dirty. And natural. The camera was as fast as an eye shutter. The photos were taken hastily, controlled by emotions, without craving the subject. It is also a special way of capturing the world – after all, each of these expeditions was to be the last. A magical second to point the lens and press the trigger. There is no time or space for tricks. More conjured up coincidences than pedantic arrangements. More art than technique.

Paweł Daniel Zalewski (excerpt from introduction)