How did forms and signs that we still use today come to be in our culture and visual tradition? In his latest project, Arché, award-winning photographer Kacper Kowalski explores the universal relationship between man and nature.
Kacper Kowalski (b. 1977, Poland) has been observing and photographing landscape from an aerial perspective for over 20 years. At an altitude of 500 feet [approx. 150 meters] above the ground, he is exposed to all kinds of sensations: the waves of hot and cold air surround him, while he pushes through the clouds with his gyrocopter or paraglider. He feels the vibrations, the wind and humidity. It is in those surroundings - paradoxically - that he finds a peace of mind. The state of absolute concentration, required to simultaneously fly and photograph, leaves his mind free and calm. This is when the sensations from the outside world and the landscape beneath him start to communicate with the language that reveals itself on the photographs - the language of symbols, shapes, and patterns.
Arché photo book, Poland 2021, the first edition
In his recent project, Arché, Kowalski takes further the exploration that started with the award-winning series: Side Effects and Over. In Side Effects he concentrated on human activity and its relationship with the surroundings, whereas Over is a silent exploration of his emotional states, expressed through the abstracted landscapes photographed in the winter. His latest project, Arché, is an even more universal tale of connection between humans and nature, and a reflection over the interconnection between the past and the present that reveals itself not only in our spiritual life, but also is expressed in nature itself.
“I have been photographing shapes that are appearing on ice throughout the winter. When methane is released from the bottom of a frozen lake it pierces through the thin ice and melts the snow on the surface. When the wind blows the ice sheets move and start acting like a siphon. Though there is no oxygen under the ice sheet there is still life: fish push through the ice to catch a bit of air, allowing water to emerge. Foxes gather at these ice holes, hoping for an easy meal and leaving behind their footsteps in the snow. Sometimes the icy surface is covered in smudges which appear when the thickening ice breaks under its own weight, allowing water to leak through the cracks. These icy shapes are elusive – morphing into different shapes, disappearing under fresh snow or melting and transforming.”, explains Kowalski the process of creating the photographs.
At first photographs for Arché were taken for three winter seasons since 2016/17, however the last winter was warm in Poland, The lakes and rivers did not freeze. “I devoted my attention to the Vistula, the last big wild river in this part of Europe, which is gradually and systematically drying up. The project becomes a quiet reminder of the essential connection between humans and their natural surroundings.
“Kacper brings many questions, in his newest work it seems like he is digging deeper where nature, snow, water and wildlife make forms that few of us have seen. At first his photos are strangely familiar. You look in your mind for comparison, almost like Japanese ink art, or modernistic forms of minimalism on paper, but still like ancient magic signs or cave paintings, when looking closer, understanding this is nature, we are suddenly connected with some place in our minds, connected to memories from times when understanding these footprints and forms in nature was vital for survival. From times when mythology was born, before the time of writing, maybe even before language”, writes award-winning Icelandic writer, essayist, and environmentalist, Andri Snaer Magnasson, in the introduction to the book.
Arché photo book
“These images are part of a project about prehistoric times, when tradition, culture and meanings were interwoven in people's collective imagination. When myth and reality were interconnected and when symbols and motifs were passed on through oral tradition. This is the foundation of human civilization, whether we realise it or not”, says Kowalski.
The book Arché, designed by Ania Nałęcka-Milach, will premiere at Paris Photo in November 2021..
Kacper Kowalski Arché
Photographs: Kacper Kowalski
Texts: Kacper Kowalski, Andri Snær Magnason
Project curator: Wiktoria Michałkiewicz
Translation of Kacper Kowalski text: Stefan Lorenzutti, Joanna Osiewicz-Lorenzutti
Editing of Andri Snær Magnason text: Stefan Lorenzutti
Graphic design: Ania Nałęcka-Milach / Tapir Book Design
Typeset in Grafier
Printed on Alto Creme 1.5 & Tyvek Classic
Printing & binding: Grafix, Gdańsk
Production coordination: Leszek Marcinkowski MCG
Publisher: Kacper Kowalski FABRYKA
Print run: 1,000 copies
Special edition: 100 copies
Copyright © for the photographs by Kacper Kowalski
Copyright © for the texts by the authors
Copyright © for the edition by Kacper Kowalski FABRYKA, Gdynia 2021
The photographs were taken in Poland between 2017 and 2021.