Looking for comfort, searching for security. And failing. By Karolina Gembara
In 2009 I moved to Delhi. It wasn’t my first visit, I had been there before as an intern at the Polish Embassy. But this time I brought my camera along. I quickly realised I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of strangers, something Western photographers seem to be able to do so easily.
It was a challenging time, a time of looking for a comfortable place, holding on to and letting go of some relationships, both in India and my home country. I moved house a lot, constantly accompanied by a sense of transience. Should I stay and build my home in a land I didn’t belong to? Should I go back and try to reconnect with what I was losing?
I decided to document the process. To some degree this series is about my life in India. But to speak about it I use metaphors and models—my dearest friends, the people I could relate to. Delhi, like any other metropolis, does not offer much comfort. The sense of repose is ephemeral. All of us experienced the harshness of the city, the temporality of our houses, the superficiality of our romantic relationships.
I searched for quiet isolated places where shadows could give us minutes of shelter. My eye would stop at shapes that reminded me of houses. I would build structures that were meant to collapse. If the results seem tender, that tenderness never stays. If we find a horizontal position, we need to soon escape the sun.
Lines from Monica Mody’s poem ‘Capacity’ run through this work: “We are alone and only lighted by the flame inside us / When we lie down, grasses grow from us.”
In 2016 I moved back to Poland and started working on a book that told this story. It proved to be an act of closure, one that helped me deal with the sense of failure, of being defeated by the city.
The photo book When we lie down, grasses grow from us was published in November 2019 by GOST Books, London. This essay was published in the Jan-Mar 2020 issue.