Clear of People (2012 – 2013) by Michal Iwanowski, a Polish photographer based in the UK, retraces a journey that his grandfather, Anatol, and his uncle, Wiktor, made towards the end of WWII, in 1945. After escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp in Kaluga, Russia, the Iwanowski brothers travelled over 2,200km on foot, walking at night, and staying clear of people. Their journey took them from Russia, across Belarus and Lithuania, all the way to Poland, where Anatol and Wiktor eventually settled back in. It’s mainly thanks to a diary written by the photographer’s uncle that Iwanowski was able to track that astonishing escape and photograph places through which Anatol and Wiktor could have passed.
Even though Iwanowski claims to be ‘documenting’ the journey from the perspective of a fugitive, I would say it’s the opposite. Majority of the images seem to be showing the point of view of somebody chasing or tracking those who have fled. Bird’s eye view images look as if they were taken from a helicopter, watching out for the escapees. Zoomed-in, cropped shots of the undergrowth, on the other hand, could have been taken when combing the area for evidence or tracks.
Clear of People is conveying the sense of escape in a convincing and visually pleasing manner. Photographs present an unsettling reality and hostile environments and suggest that although desolation meant safety for the fugitives, it also defined a fight for survival. Just a shame Iwanowski hasn’t managed to include (images of) the archival materials such as the diary to add a final ‘documentary’ touch to the whole project.