Author: Michał Dąbrowski
The photographs from Maksymilian Rigamonti’s book Echo refer to memories of the generation that lived through the collective trauma of the Volhynia massacre.
The couple in the above photograph are the first people to appear in the book, which is otherwise dominated by pictures of the historical Volhynian landscape – trees and fields under leaden skies. The photographs are supplemented by snippets of interviews, as well as information on the number of victims who died near the photographed sites.
In the work above, a boy is frozen in an unnatural pose: a forced embrace. His incisive gaze and indifferent body language suggest vague annoyance. The young people Rigamonti has photographed belong to a generation that cannot recall the Volhynia tragedy, even if they have surely heard of it. The photographer has captured secondary witnesses to the tragedy. The second (or next) generation’s memories are founded on empathetic reconstructions of those tragic events, and moulded by stories, films, textbooks and historical discourse. Although we know nothing about the couple in the portrait, they seem like a fitting illustration of possible reactions to traumatic events: on the one hand, cognitive bewilderment, and on the other, a twinge of empathy; one may either repress the experience, or accept it. The scene is completed by a cart in the foreground, a rural landscape in the background, and an overcast sky – familiar, easily identifiable elements.
Rigamonti’s book depicts sites where the tragedy occurred, together with eyewitnesses, and members of the next generation. His photographs not only illustrate the current situation, they also shape attitudes towards history – how to interpret and comprehend it, and how to empathise with the victims.
In the book, this photograph is accompanied by the caption: 'Wygranka, July 11, 1943 (more than 140 people)'.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MB, Nov 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.