Reading Time: 6 mins
A digital platform, active Instagram feed and printed newspapers, the APP pairs picture taking with bold design to help keep the cause on the agenda
The entire year 2015 marked a turning point in Polish society. Andrzej Duda of the conservative rightwing party PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, translating to Regulation and Justice) won the particular presidential elections. Within weeks, the new government made extreme changes to policy plus legislation, directly threatening the particular constitution and what had formerly been a liberal and progressive democracy. In 2020, Duda narrowly won another term.
With every election, the party goals new ‘enemies’; people who do not fit neatly into the idea of a model Polish resident. First, it was refugees, considered draining public funds and overwhelming the workforce. Then your LGBTQ+ community; during his second election campaign, Duda claimed its “ideology” intends the Catholic Church and is “worse than communism”.
The leadership has also vulnerable women’s rights over their health. In October 2020, the constitutional tribunal ruled that abortion might only be legal in cases of rape, incest, or even threat to the mother’s lifestyle . And no longer just for “severe and irreversible foetal defects or incurable health problems that would threaten the foetus’ life”. Earlier that 12 months, Poland announced it would pull out of the Istanbul Convention, a worldwide treaty focused on preventing violence against women.
Since 2015, the increase in the number of protests and, indeed, protest movements in Poland has been exponential. Poles, particularly the younger era, have taken to the streets in huge numbers to demonstrate against the country’s leadership.
The Women’s Strike, a social movement initiated in September 2016 at the height from the first wave of pro-choice demonstrations, is just one example of the numerous key organising bodies. And following the renewed restrictions upon abortion last October, a few 400, 000 pro-choice active supporters and workers gathered across the country – the biggest show of opposition against the sitting government recorded in the last half-decade.
Karolina Gembara , a Polish photographer working towards a PhD at the University of Economics and Human Sciences, Warsaw, is an active participant in the demonstrations. She also critically observes them for her educational research, and says the particular rhetoric has shifted. “The language of the protest has become very radical – a few would even say it has become vulgar, ” the lady explains. People are exasperated, and they are angry. The marches might be peaceful, but the messages are usually clear. The word ‘Wypierdalac [Get the fuck out]’ is echoed throughout the crowd.
“There is the language, but also a great deal that is happening in the visible sphere, ” continues Gembara. “The banners, the costumes, the makeup, the things that people shout, the music. We view the protests as cultural phenomena, but also perhaps as pieces of art. We are dealing with a different kind of imagery, it’s not linear paperwork. ”
The demonstrations are animated. The crowds march to the sound of drums and song, plus spontaneous performances of dancing and coordinated movement emerge around cities and along streets. The symbol of a crimson lightning bolt has become synonymous with the Women’s Strike. It is painted on encounters and bodies, projected on to buildings and even made into fashion accessories. The colour red permeates through the masses, marked by printer ink or clothing – an indicator of solidarity.
It comes as no surprise that will Polish mainstream media, which is now almost entirely managed by the state, has provided little airtime to the continuous action. Because of this lack of visibility, it became important for several like-minded image-makers to record the events themselves. One of these is Magnum member and Polish visual artist Rafał Milach .
“All of an unexpected, we as photographers discovered ourselves in a strange place, where our role has been blending between being a photographer, a citizen, a protester, and many other things, ” he or she explains.
Documenting the particular protests was an user-friendly way for the group to engage with these. Indeed, assigning themselves this task gave them a new feeling of purpose and emergency. For some, this fast and reactive way of working was unfamiliar. This included Milach, who is known for his extensive, research-led methodology. The practitioners persevered, and eventually, Milach plus five others decided that it was important to collate the imagery in one place. The effort was originally Warsaw-centred, great the collective has grown in order to 17 members based across the nation. Launched in 2016, the end result is the Archive of Open public Protests (APP).
“We plan to make a strong statement from it. ”
A collaborative digital system and Instagram account web host the images. The collective created the archive in order to serve as a resource, since evidence of the protests from your street point of view. There is no content goal. Instead, the APP is a depository of information just for academics, historians and journalists to utilise. However , the archive is not objective. “We intend to make a strong statement with it, ” explains Milach.
Alongside the anti-government protests, Warsaw’s streets have also become a platform for rightwing nationalist marches and neo-Nazi movements. “We document these types of events as well, but we all don’t give [the images] an equal platform intended for distribution within the APP, ” says Milach. “We don’t want to create any sensation of symmetry, or to give voice to the ideologies that people fundamentally disagree with. ”
The archive physically manifests as being a newspaper, which launched in 2020 with two problems, one of which focused on the Women’s Strike. In March 2021, it printed its third issue, dedicated to the particular climate protests. The distribution combines the archive’s many striking photographs with vibrant typography and coded significance. Words echoing the impassioned street slogans are published in large capital characters across double-page spreads. The particular red lightning bolt graces the cover and is echoed throughout.
“By launching the newspaper and developing this alternative circulation associated with images, we control the narrative and their utilization, ” explains Milach. “This is crucial, especially today – facing all the fake news or half-truths that influence our political and social life more and more. By making a distribution channel – one of several – we can crystallise the message. It’s a coherent, closed document, which is manifesting certain clear ideas. ”
“It’s like the act of performing this particular archive, taking it back to the streets and doing something with those images so they don’t just stay inside the sphere of an online living. ”
The paper is passed out for free. Its bold style and lettering inspire individuals to hold up the pages since flags, paste them upon walls as posters, plus display them in windows. “It’s like the act to perform this archive, taking it back to the streets and carrying out something with those pictures so they don’t just remain within the sphere of an on the internet existence, ” says Gembara. “The newspaper is made in a way that you can do things with it. It’s not a book, it’s not an object that you need to be careful with. It is dying, but also tangible. You need to open it, dismantle it and use it [for] gestures. ”
Phones capture pictures of the pages in action, that are shared on social media and increase the photographs’ visibility a lot more. The creative contribution from the newspaper is particularly effective in the smaller cities outside of the capital, where the bold visual language stands out in the smaller events.
Power of the people
A recent survey shows that almost 70 per cent associated with Poles are in favour of the Women’s Strike. Some thirty per cent of these people are former PiS voters. “There’s an enormous support for the message, ” says Gembara. However , the numbers of people demonstrating in the street does not reflect this data. “In a way, this motion is not only about abortion plus women’s rights, but it is also about everything that continues to be happening since 2015, and a few of the inequalities and the problems that have been silenced for many years just before. ”
Gembara is based in Berlin, Milach in Warsaw, and I are in London. All three people have family in Poland who we remember because the conversation turns to actions of solidarity and studying. ‘Solidarity’ carries a certain significance in Poland. It was the first trade union, launched in 1980. Back then, this stood for the power from the people to drive social and political change during a moments of great adversity. “It’s not only some abstract value we’re talking about here; as a term, as a phenomenon, ‘solidarity’ is a strong part of the narrative [for years], ” says Gembara. “Right now, it’s like we are physically experiencing exactly what solidarity is. People need those small gestures – even if it’s just getting hot tea to the protesters who are sitting on the ground within minus 20. ”
Milach adds: “This is something that we should not forget. We should look around thoroughly because there are a lot of allies that may either help us or we can help them. We are going through a learning procedure but also re-evaluating our fundamentals as a society. I think that individuals are rebooting somehow. Set up political result [we want] is not here yet, something fundamental is altering in our mentality. ”
The particular photographers behind the APP see the project as an expansion of this sentiment. Using their write to create something that can be useful plus visually empower the narrative of the protests is their show of support for the motion and contribution to the discourse. It is their way of browsing solidarity.