Gradwatch: Paulina Korobkiewicz

After touring this year’s degree shows, we’re profiling a series of graduates who we feel produced outstanding creative work. Here, photographer Paulina Korobkiewicz discusses her graduation project, Disco Polo, which documents Eastern Poland’s colourful architecture.

Disco Polo. All images © Paulina Korobkiewicz

After touring this year’s degree shows, we’re profiling a series of graduates who we feel have produced outstanding creative work. Here, photography graduate Paulina Korobkiewicz discusses her degree show project, Disco Polo, which documents Eastern Poland’s colourful architecture.

Originally from Poland, Korobkiewicz moved to London three years ago to study at Camberwell College of Arts and has built an impressive portfolio of architectural and urban photography. For her final project, she produced a hardback photo book exploring the changing aesthetics in the country since the fall of Communism in 1989. Images document stark Soviet buildings painted in pastel shades by local residents, and utilitarian high-rises draped in colourful home-made banners. It also looks at the aesthetics of a popular music genre known as Disco Polo…

When did you first become interested in photography?

I became interested in photography when I was little. My dad used to always take photos but it was when I went to Warsaw School of Photography as a 15 year old [that] I started feeling like it was something I wanted to do in my life.

How would you describe your work, and what inspires you?

My work stands between abstract architecture imagery and social documentary. I am trying to make a statement about the world but it’s a statement from my personal point of view. Photographers specialised in the area of previous Soviet Union such as Richard Pare, Nadav Kender or Carl de Keyzer inspire me a lot.

I was initially drawn to the work of humanist photographers, however at the moment I find inspiration in fine art photography as well as social documentary. I really enjoy the works of Rob Hornstra, Boris Mikhail, Maurice van Es and Yoshinori Mituzani…[and] Sputnik Photos is also something I look at a lot.

Disco Polo

Could you tell us a little more about Disco Polo – where the series was shot, how the idea came about and what it was that fascinated you about Eastern Poland’s aesthetics after 1989?

Living in London for the last three years, every time I went back home I started noticing the colourful architecture that I was very used to before. The political gentrification and urban landscape still highly influenced by the communist period was my main subject of focus. Throughout the year I travelled back to my home town in an attempt to adopt an outsider’s perspective, reflecting back on an area I was once familiar with. I started being inspired to create a record of contemporary history and post communist reality.

‘Disco Polo’ documents the aesthetics in Eastern Poland after 1989, focusing on the mixed influences from East and West. This project presents kitsch of rough-and-ready billboards, pastel-coloured concrete blocks and suburban night-clubs. I was initially drawn to the national trauma associated with the communist period, kitsch aesthetics of advertising and décor, social-realist architecture and the religious aspect of life that, before 1989, was the only element of freedom in [many] citizens’ lives. The Catholic church was the communist government’s enemy and the only place where Poles could voice their opinion out loud. The system changed but the mentality and the elements of previous era are still strongly rooted in the Polish society. I started focusing on the nostalgia towards a “better world” and what comes with it.

Disco Polo

Elements of life that I considered bizarre struck me even more after the experience of living in [Western European] society. I started noticing omnipresent visual chaos and started wondering if anyone shared my opinion. I came across a great publication created by a Polish photographer Filip Springer, ‘Wanna z Kolumnadą’ (eng. A Bathtub with a Colonnade), in which he describes how after the political regime produced a specific, utilitarian type of architecture, we we got stuck somewhere in between, struggling with the construction of our identity, torn between the remains of years of fidelity to Russia and new devotion to America. The lack of experts in local housing associations resulted in randomly chosen shades [being painted on houses and apartments], turning the streets into a vivid collage of pastel rainbows.

Disco Polo

The thing that Springer didn’t describe is Disco Polo, something I have been familiar with since I can remember. This bizarre genre of music loved by almost 29 percent of Polish citizens really intrigues me. It holds its own aesthetics from the outfits [worn by musicians] to the places in which the music is performed. The music also embodies nostalgia and the hope for a better future. It is a genre that developed in the part of Poland I am from around the time of the system transition.

I visited several different towns in the North-East of Poland [to shoot the series]. I drove across the countryside and photographed all the elements I found relevant in order to show the story of a gentrified country. The project also explores the effect of global capitalism on the Polish landscape with advertising hoardings dominating the cityscape, setting a sharp contrast between the decay and aspiration of the country, however I choose to portray the part of the country I am familiar with as an insider. Knowing its history and having lived amongst it, I try to emphasise the chaos and kitsch with the accompanying tones of Disco Polo music.

Disco Polo

You’ve also produced a photobook documenting architecture in Southeast London (SE22). What interested you about the area?

I am based in Peckham, this is where I have been living since moving to London. The area is very distinct and while living here I have experienced its gentrification. I focused on architectural details and elements of the area’s character. I love its diversity and constant energy as well as its aesthetics…It is still a constant source of inspiration.


How was studying at Camberwell, and what were the most important things you learned there?

Camberwell gave me space to develop my personal style and focus on my own projects. It was a very free study based course which required a lot of self-discipline, and helped me establish my approach to my current work.

What are your hopes and plans for the future now you’ve finished university? And what are you hoping to do next?

I am working on a few different projects which will hopefully result in more publications. I hope to make more publications and keep up my work as a photographer, and I wish to further explore self-publishing and artist books alongside my personal practice.

London, 2015

See more of Paulina’s work here.

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