Contemporary young men and women are driven by anxiety. Anxiety accompanies us wherever we go. Anxiety that we won't suceed, that we won't have enough money to survive, that we won't be able to fulfill our dreams, that the world will crush us, that we won't find anybody to love, that we are never good enough just on our own. I certainly feel this way every day. I try to balance my unhealthy lifestyle, artistic ambitions and my social self as a good citizen, good person, independent woman.
When I've met Igor, we realised that we were both anxious little entities, who nonetheless were able to make our mutual lives better. We started our life together which was a daily celebration of love, understanding and fulfilled desire. But it doesn't mean our internal lives and problems had disappeared. There was a danger, that together we could become an isolated bubble. Finding happiness in another could solve our problems, but could also pose a possible problem itself. We both still felt anxious about our respective lives, our creative futures. We struggled financially, struggled mentally, tried hard not to fall into the very same pitfalls that has often pervaded our lives: addictions, obsessions, isolation, depression. Was it possible that love alone kept us safe, as the world as we knew it collapsed every day? We begun each day from reading news to each other, which got scarier and scarier. We still experienced setbacks and recurrent mental problems. We questioned whether we could be happy in a world like this.
We spent a difficult winter staying mostly in bed, sometimes staying sane by the mere skin of our teeth. But our love grew, our attachment to each other grew and the sheer joy of being together bustled inside of us despite everything. Every day is a struggle. It is never easy. I guess we are lucky that we have found each other, but the sinking feeling the is world on a brink of collapse persists in us. We, as a couple, circulate between the inside and the outside world. Then there's the everyday. The survival. The „what would you like for dinner”, the „how was your day”, the „will I still love him/her in 20 years? I hope I do”. Something keeps pushing us to live, to love and continue.
by Agata Pyzik
Psychological roller coaster. This exceptional presentation of the meanders of the human internal transformation leads through the painful process of getting out of alcohol addiction, discovering a new self, dealing with the surrounding reality, seeking the closeness of other man, and - finally - finding love.
I shot the first picture of Deceitful Reverence while I was in Lodz, Poland, shortly after returning from a two-month treatment for alcohol addiction in a closed institution. I got addicted when I was in high school, and have drunk compulsively for almost 8 years. In some way, photography saved my life.
I learned to exist without high, fake stimulations. After the treatment, I felt that I could start my life with a new beginning.
I started with taking pictures of my surroundings. It became my way to express my feelings, the chaos in my head.
I started to use photography to visualize my loneliness, abandonment, love etc.
In Deceitful Reverence I want to show my visions, emotions, dreams from my past and present life. It is an individual, personal look at the inner and outer world, which is constantly stirred and interacting with one another, pervading…
It’s a kind of poem, a diary and a therapy
FULL ESAY FROM DECEITFUL REVERENCE BOOK
All the Difficult Feelings
The first images by Igor I saw were of himself, and I saw them on his Tinder profile. It was wintery early March in Warsaw. It was half past two in the morning, I couldn’t sleep and was listlessly scrolling through a string of terrible guys either dressed in cheap suits, tensing their muscles or proudly showing off their sexy beer bellies. I was laughing but also wondering what the fuck I was doing with my life. I saw his dreamy self-portrait, he obviously stood out and, despite being terrified each time I did so that the guy was a murderer, I cautiously swiped right. We matched. We had a few Facebook friends in common, so I checked his profile and then his website, as you do these days, to make sure he wasn’t a rapist or anyone dangerous (as if that was something you could judge from pictures, but never mind). I had zero expectations. I’d never heard of him before and wasn’t that interested in photography. We instantly started writing to each other, two fellow insomniacs, and instantly connected, both very recently back in Poland from years of migration. On a whim, inspired by this sudden contact, we decided to meet the very next day.
We got lucky, I guess. Though we totally shouldn’t have. I still can’t wrap my head around it and something tells me I shouldn’t. It’s a whirlwind, one that’s still very much whirling. I was swept up by Igor’s world and his imagery. If anyone wants to tell me that I’m the last person who should be writing the text for his book, then yes, maybe, but who cares. Photography is also about a perfect sense of timing, of grasping the moment, of a capacity to be in the present. An instant decision that you silently hope will change your life, or change the world, at least for that one minute, or make people connect. Photography turns time into space. The space between two people, or between a person and the world. It makes us feel slightly more at home in the world, no matter how unsettling it is. And this is what Igor’s pictures do.
I remember seeing his self-portraits straight out of rehab that very night, not knowing anything about his previous alcohol addiction, and was struck by how emaciated and fragile they looked. Later, I read his statement about the addiction, about the slow, gradual recovery and how the cycle was to an extent a mirror and a means of recovery. It was about regaining the taste – literally – for the world and for living. I was moved by the honesty of it. How it showed how difficult it was. How many demons you meet on the way back to the world of the living. How to cope with the fact one of them might even be yourself? How not to lose oneself in it again, not fall again?
The consequences of addiction might be felt even many years after getting sober. Igor tried to capture that terrifying feeling without flinching. He saw this monster within himself and tried to see a good person in himself again. But one should by no means look at the pictures predominantly with that knowledge in mind. It goes beyond a particular trauma, and becomes a metaphor about existing in the world. Igor's pictures are all about loss. Self-portraits constitute the biggest theme and the largest part of his body of work. They act as a kind of diary and documentary, no matter how surreal they might feel; a chronicle of a person who tries to come back to living.
I rarely get a sense that I know, or at least obsessively wonder, what Igor's subjects – as it's not only him – might be thinking. We can look into the inside of his subjects. It’s done in the most fearless way. The self-portraits in Deceitful Reverence reflect the incessant struggle to get to know oneself, in a series of evident falls and failures to do so. Man is unrecognisable to himself, maybe even most truly precisely to himself. As the alcohol-affected brain loses parts of its memory, some of these self-portraits were also taken to simply remember oneself.
They register angst, anxiety, the feeling of being outside of oneself, loss of self, defragmentation, dissolution. Of never being complete. There’s some craving for wholeness, for constituting a whole in there. The subject, when he can’t be with himself, tries to be one with another person, other people, and when that's impossible too, then with nature.
In addition, this is a foreign world. Literally. Sweden. The pictures record a strong sense of unhomeliness. Of being a migrant, a stranger. Surrounded by a strange language and strange, detached people. But also astonishing nature.
In Deceitful Reverence nature is the final and only reliable shelter. This does not obviously mean it is nice and cosy, quite the contrary. It retains a sense of the uncanny, like everything else here, and is charged with the hero's sensuality. It wears his feelings. Igor is originally from Bielsko-Biała, murky town in Silesia. It has only later occurred to me, that this is where the greyness I see in it might be coming from. Places we see here are never really specific. There’s a blurred sense of space, just as there’s a blurred sense of self. It shouldn’t be associated with the state of drunkenness, but rather with oblivion, with forgetfulness and with being lost as a stranger. Subsequent ‘Igors’ are like doubles, alternative selves. You may call it part of a coping mechanism, in which the affected individual is trying to separate himself from the parts of his personality they’d rather escape.
While there’s no clear sense of space, of strong contour to things, there’s a sense of fascination, of love, of belief. There’s a sensuality. Time is out of joint, we are thrown into this oblivion, disorientation. There’s a feeling of repulsion and desire all at once, as the world here is supercharged with often unfulfilled desire. Incapable of feeling one with one person, the hero connects with nature, throwing his naked body onto it, in a truly post-sexual, post-civilisational state.
It takes some courage to believe your life matters again. That you can refill it with pulsating, even sexual energy. There’s an interesting play between Igor's black and white pictures and his colour photography. It’s not by any means a simple juxtaposition, with colour meaning life, and greyness or blacks and whites being morbid. Sometimes it’s actually the opposite. Sudden bursts of colour throughout the cycle often act as moments of special intensity and revelation, but also of anxiety; they pose the danger of falling into a druggy haze once again. When you read about the relationship between colour and depression, then naturally colour is supposed to mean convalescence, when you start seeing colours again. It invites energy and vigour to one's life. But a surplus of colour, which bursts out in the cycle, has the value of a sudden shock. It can suddenly blind you.
While Igor's love for showing the harsh and unadorned aspects of the world, the dizzy landscapes, skin imperfections, twisted and distorted bodies in pain and oblivion, is obvious and recalls such photographers as Antoine d'Agata, the stark black and whites and a certain naturalism brings to mind Anders Petersen or Jacob Aue Sobol. In turn, the ceaseless desire to discover and reinvent oneself makes me think of Francesca Woodman. But there is something unmistakably new here too. Deceitful Reverence dismantles any fixed sense of masculine mastery, which I see in the other photographers I mention. Instead, it exposes heterosexual male fragility and weakness. JH Engström is the only photographer I can think of who is also not afraid of this. These pictures are not demonstrations of control. These are demonstrations of artistic confidence despite everything that is put into doubt.
To put Deceitful Reverence into context, the larger turn towards black and white photography we see in recent decades, despite technological progress, expresses a craving for reduction, for simplicity, but also for a desire to be close to reality, to reject the constant burden of mediation. There is a need, a longing, for sensuality in the contemporary world. A yearning to return to one’s own body, which is increasingly, in so many ways, taken away from us, by ever-upgraded technology and surveillance.
This is how I explain the need for a return to private life and, by a similar token, the popularity of the selfie. If the sense of self is so deeply dismantled by the way the contemporary world makes us function, with self-portrait being historically, the most available way of self-exploration, no wonder it is so popular today. The only thing that's changed is that it's carried out in public, as the difference between the public and private got more complex with development of the Internet. It is a way of reclaiming self-image from modern, more insidious ways of scrutiny, taking back, however illusionary, control over the self. Igor’s pictures of course exist in a different realm to Instagram selfies, they are more artful and accomplished, but in a way, Pisuk remains a child of his time, a prolific Instagram user, and here he explores the fragile within the masculine and the possibilities of expressing non-stereotypical ways of being male.
Sex is surely not taboo anymore. But I’m happy about everything related to sex in this book. It was an adventure for me too to become so intimately involved as a subject. I can only say that thanks to this my previous, perhaps more conventional ways of regarding intimacy had been transformed. Yet male heterosexual weakness, mental health issues and fragility are still taboos. It might seem obvious that men are feeling and suffering creatures too, and that in the present era they might feel an extra need for soul-searching. In this, I think, these pictures also stand out – there is no fear or hesitation in showing oneself as ill, depressed, weak, slightly pathetic even. I think this is very brave.
You can touch things here. They are here in their full materiality. Don’t be fooled by the ethereal impression they might be making. Even though the focus here is more on internal worlds than the external, various objects – a penis, a flower, a dog – mix and collapse into one another. We might be at times disoriented. There’s madness, fear, but also the joy of rediscovered youth. Imagine years and years of your youth had been taken away from you, by alcohol or unfortunate events. Consumed by loneliness, sadness and illnesses. You teach yourself to stop having feelings. Now you’re learning how to feel again. But there’s also a sense the world remains unknowable, Kafkaesque. And like a Kafkaesque man, our hero, eternally immature, eternally young and naive in his belief that he can understand the world, sleepwalks through it. The world of Deceitful Reverence is the work of an idealist.
We can’t save anything from destruction – not our loved ones, especially not ourselves. The pictures at least manage to break a wall that is both within us and in front of us. In the end, I see this cycle as motivated by curiosity, ceaseless, endless curiosity to explore the world, both around us and inside of us. How do we go about this journey?
To see is to desire. To become one with things and to make the boundary between ourselves and the world disappear.
by Agata Pyzik
It’s an extraordinary time for photography and photographers. The boundaries have all but disappeared, the medium is as open as Mars for exploration. With the photo/graphic strips of Igor Pisuk, I’m reminded of just how strange and entertaining photography can be.
I see that great Weirdo angst of Robert Crumb in Pisuk’s images—gritty, low-fi, a bit like a used razor. But Pisuk also puts me in mind of the offbeat, but charming, nineteenth century proto-graphic novel, The Diary of a Nobody (1892), written by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith and illustrated by Weedon himself. The preface to The Diary could have served for this feature just as well:
“Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ - why my diary should not be interesting.”
Pisuk’s everyman persona is not just interesting. It’s self-deprecating, punchy and mad in that “north-north-west” sort of way. The strips are full of the kind of calamitous banalities that are impossible not to recognize in ourselves.
I was lying sick in bed. Angry about the elections. I saw the movie American Splendor and cried and laughed at the same time. This story fascinated me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s a story about Harvey Pekar – an author of comics, who was one of the first who used the comic form to tell a story about ordinary life. Without super heroes, or a princess on a white horse, no fantasy, no fake. It was just life. Strong, funny, creepy, brutal and honest. Interestingly, Pekar wrote only a kind of script, and then he invited illustrators to make the pictures for his stories. For several years, I worked with personal documentary photography, but often I felt that I also needed words and dialogue.
American Splendor inspired me to create something similar to the comic form. I decided to use my own photos and put them into a filter that eliminated greyscale tones. I started to combine them in squares with dialogue and small observations from my life. It’s about weakness, different jobs, loneliness, fear, love and everything that is important to me. It’s a kind of visual haiku of my ordinary life.
© Igor Pisuk