Brutal by a Polish photographer Michał Łuczak (member of the Sputnik Photos collective) is a great example of a micro-documentary choosing to tell ‘little’ stories instead of grand narratives. In his cycle Łuczak documented Katowice Railway Station – once a prime example of brutalist architecture in Poland.
The old Katowice Railway Station was located in the biggest post-industrial city in the coal-mining region of Upper Silesia (southern Poland). Constructed in 1972, the station stood as a symbol of modernity and power of the Polish People’s Republic. Reinforced concrete structure, glass, steel, and lack of traditional ornamentation defined the place almost as much as the people who used to hang out there day and night. Katowice Station was obviously mostly frequented by travellers getting on or off the trains. However, just like many other railway stations in Poland, the place also attracted ‘uncommon “passengers” – as Łuczak called them – ‘who didn’t have any tickets and never got on any train’. As the photographer put it, ‘[they] created some kind of a parallel world, which existed on the sidelines of normal life.’ And whether we like it or not, they became an inextricable part of that space.
In his cycle Brutal, the author documented both the Katowice Railway Station as well as the people he met there. The architectural shots are in most cases devoid of people, symmetrical, and quite traditionally composed. Some landscapes and architectural images also bear fantastic light effects, blurring, and multiplication – as it turns out, these were fully accidental and due to the camera fault.
The portraits on the other hand are completely different – shot from close up, often cropped, and tightly composed. As the photographer explained, he often used a flash for the portraits, which explains the sharpness of the image as well as the necessity to photograph the subjects from a small distance. Some critics find a close resemblance to the works of Weegee, which – as it turns out – is quite accurate. As Łuczak explained, he worked on Brutal after a period of fascination with Anders Petersen and Diane Arbus, what could explain references (even if unconscious) to their style, so similar to that of Weegee.
Between late 2010 and early 2011 the old Katowice Railway Station got demolished and later re-developed. Now a modern glass-and-steel station combined with a shopping mall stands in its place. Brutal has thus become a document of a place that no longer exists and of people who disappeared together with the historical building.
To see the photographs from this series alongside architectural plans, the Brutal photobook, and related text, visit Doomed Gallery in London between 5th and 8th November 2015 where BRUTAL RETROSPECTIVE is on show.