Photographic Alphabet: K is for Zuza Krajewska
Written by Agnes Bae
In Imago, Polish photographer Zuza Krajewska captures young boys at a juvenile detention center in Studzieniec near Warsaw. Zuza Krajewska is a renowned photographer who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk.
Zuza Krajewska work ranges from elaborate fashion photographs to intimate photo-documentary to commercial images of recognized political figures in Poland. Her work is easily identifiable such as the iconic photograph of Jolanta Kwaśniewska, the First Lady of Poland from 1995 to 2005, eating a meringue pie with her black gloves. In Imago, a series completed in 2016, she turns her attention to the anonymous faces of young convicts suspended in adolescence and incarceration in a striking portrait of boyhood.
While some of the boys are detained for petty crimes, others are in the detention center for more severe offenses. They range from minor theft to assault and become as serious as rape. The center, also known as a borstal, is designed to re-educate the boys out of their juvenile delinquency and introduce them back into society as law-abiding citizens by the time they are 18 years old. “Imago” is an entomological term for an adult insect, in its final developmental stages. Outwardly, insects in the imago stage appear to be adults but are younger. Their external shells or layers have not yet fully hardened but soon will, with the passing of time. Zuza Krajewska’s portraits depict boys shaving their barely present body hair, large clothes awkwardly engulfing skinny bodies, and puerile smiles goofing around after a meal with their wolf-pack. The term “imago” certainly resonates throughout the series, emphasized by the boys’s developing features.
And yet, we are still reminded that the boys are convicted criminals despite their age. Some are tattooed, some are scarred from altercations inside the center. Hard upbringings, absent parents, and abusive environments are factors for, but not solely responsible for their behavior. It is because there is still a sense of hope and reform for the boys in Studzieniec that the images are conflicting. Krajewska approaches the project with an empathetic eye, an image portrays some of the boys piled on top of each other; their faces pressed against each other. A unique bond forms between the boys, as they serve their time without the comfort of family or friends. The series is a window into our own mistakes and tribulations, a chance for both the photographer and her audience to reflect on adolescence and the disillusionment that often accompanies it. In fact, we may all still be suspended in stage imago, ever-changing and striving to grow and improve.