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The Echo. Book review in by Michał Dąbrowski


Author: Michał Dąbrowski

Echo is the effect of several journeys to the historical region of Volhynia. This well-balanced and ambiguous book is a tale about great history and senseless cruelty, composed of photos and first-hand reports. 

To view the book, one has to unbend the cover pinned down with a magnet. The inside resembles a pile of archive photographs. Echo consists of 12 cards which can be unfolded like a map – each of them contains four black-and-white photos. A golden sticker is the only colour accent in the book. On each page, there is a several-verses-long text, the name of the village and its GPS coordinates. Rushing the reading would be impossible – it would end with breaking off one of the pages or skipping a story included in the hidden spread.

Echo, Magdalena i Maksymilian Rigamonti, photo: publisher's press materials

The first photo depicts a meadow – a plain landscape cut in two by the horizon situated more or less in the middle of the scene. A symmetrical, orderly frame which could have been shot anywhere. First people to appear in the book is a young couple in their twenties, standing next to a cart. The boy gazes at the distance and does not embrace the girl who is hugging him. He is sad, angry or trying to contain the anger – it is difficult to tell. On the reverse, there is a short note: Wygranka, 11th July 1943, more than 140 people.

Next, there are wildflowers growing in mud. After spreading the page – a landscape disappearing in the mist. Another woman stands in open space. All we can see next to her is a small fragment of a poor playground surrounded by tires. We read:

There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, the forest is far away, the road is far away. And it's uphill. You could run downhill and then uphill again. And pray.

Photo from the book Echo, photo: Maksymilian Rigamonti, publisher's press materials

In one of the few trees, the Holy Mother stands hidden in a piece of bark. Krzywucha, August 1943, approximately 70 people. In the next spread, there is a man, next to him a volcanic rock mine. Janowa Dolina, where 600 people were killed. We watch them from a factory through a dirty windowpane. Some people are in the fields, the grass is burned off in the next photo. Above all this a snow-white cloud is visible. Following a few portraits, there is a photo of two trees. One is in bloom, the other one remains leafless and broken. After expanding the spread, one can see remnants of snow covering the foundation of the houses – white outlines of rectangles on black soil is all that is left of them.

A mother with three children and a dog stands by the fence. Here, Magdalena Rigamonti recounts a story of a woman who ran away with her child through the fields. A bullet shot by one of the Banderites was supposed to reach her head which made her lose consciousness. The boy who managed to survive thanks to this escape is Mirosław Hermaszewski – the first Pole in space. During the Volhynia massacre, members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army murdered 19 members of his family.

The photograph with the exposure set on the sky is very telling – because of this, the ground is black, almost entirely devoid of detail. Then we see a crying woman supporting herself with a wooden cane. 'Zośka. From a Polish family'. She says that she remembers everything. Her husband was Ukrainian. His brother was in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. 227 people died on this field.

Subtle, muted landscape photos dominated this book. There are many detailed shots, fragments of trees. If there was no information offered on the geographical coordinates and names of the villages, the images would have been pretentious, encumbered by the vague symbolism. Rigamonti manages to avoid this by showing specific fields on which the tragedy took place instead of simply searching for a metaphor for silence. Each of the following photos of a landscape cut in half by the horizon is a new map: that of oblivion and denial.

A note from the author finishes the book. He writes about his own fear – fear of the smell of death, of goosebumps. He sums up the atmosphere of the Majdan village: 'here, the very same quiet and disquiet can be felt in the air'. This ambivalence perfectly summarizes the project as a whole.

Maksymilian Rigamonti, together with the author of the texts, photo-editor, designer and all the other people involved in the project managed to create a book which both piques curiosity and is bloodcurdling. It is tacit and well-balanced, but also blunt because of linking together photos of the places and placing the victim count next to them. The print seeped into the mat paper and decreased the contrast as if covering it with dust. When closing the book, the reader has to once again bend the cover and connect two magnets. You can hear their click just next to the embossed title. In Polish photography publications, it seldom happens that the form enhances the content in such a meaningful way.

Publisher: Press Club Polska
Photographs: Maksymilian Rigamonti
Text: Magdalena Rigamonti
Graphic design: Kasia Kubicka
Photo editing: Ewa Meissner

Written by Michał Dąbrowski, Jun 2018, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Jun 2018