‘Short Flashes’ (2013-2014)
Written Autumn 2016.
Edited, Winter 2018.
An unbiased panorama of faces, fleeting snippets of anonymous lives passing by that are known to us but for a second. Some, gently pensive, others gnarled, frowning as they make their way through rush-hour rainstorms, commuting home within China’s populated metropolis’. This is the essence of Short Flashes, a photographic series by Polish born visual artist Wiktoria Wojciechowska in which brightly lit, candid and composed images of motorcyclists in Hangzhou & Beijing travelling home are presented. Having spontaneously made the decision to move to China for a year, Wojciechowska created the series as an attempt to interact with her new home in a way that transcended the barrier of speech.
‘There are infinitely many of these faces I carry inside myself’, Wojciechowska’s accompanying excerpt declares. Despite the sphinx-like obscurity of Wiesław Myśliwski‘s borrowed verse here , the statement raises an interesting point as each and every image is a snapshot of a different state of being and psychological mindset. The audacity of the series’ approach, means that not only are each of the images able to be framed as if sitting for a static intimate portrait, but also that her hail of camera flash can proudly leave no wrinkle in a face, curl of a wet fringe or accumulation of raindrops unnoticed.
The theme of vulnerability fuels the series. Most of the motorcyclists, either deeply in thought or subtly reactionary to Wojciechowska’s presence are caught off guard; their natural states of being celebrated here within a literal short-flash. Humorously unflattering would be a modest way of describing the majority of the images; subjects either hunched over in intent focus of the road ahead, battling the ferocious nature of the rain or having their faces consumed by their ponchos in an attempt to shield themselves from water and fume alike. Yet within this is a clumsy honesty, which many will enjoy. Some of the most interesting images in the series are those that gaze into the camera curiously; it makes one wonder as to what was going through their mind at the sight of a foreigner toting expensive camera equipment (over the course of a year) within the midst of a night-rainstorm. The time of day only strengthens the images more, not only in providing a backdrop in which the strangers can be successfully caught unaware but also in allowing their vibrant ponchos to stand so brazenly, as they blur in motion across the frame. Within the midst of darkness, these strangers have been captured like spectres, drifting on by in their masses, otherwise unnoticed by the bustling population around them.
Though easy to remark logistical and technical skill required to create such a series, it’s worth at least in part, pondering the ethical implications of such an approach to creating images. Street photography that treads the line of consent and exploitation is no modern phenomenon, but it does bear wondering about the (few, yet mentionable) similarities between highly denounced celebrity paparazzo's and a somewhat profiting fine-artist. Putting oneself in the shoes of the strangers, may shed light on a new perspective, for even the most admiring fan of her works, though Wojciechowska reassures that the few personal interactions that she had with some of her subjects, were infact friendly.
Still, Short Flashes is a series that goes where many photographers daren’t even dream of; a trifecta of social survey, technical mastery and hardy dedication. Within this superlative survey of strangers, is a beauty that is not hard to buy into visually (or literally, physically), nor to wonder what it is that’s woven within the minds of these passers by, riding on into the night like vibrant phantoms.