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Lisbon - Moscow 

Lisbon-Moscow presents 25 of villages and towns in Ontario, which have been named after well-known European cities. The photographs were taken with medium format view camera, on colour negatives. I worked on this series for over a year, through 2013 until early 2014.

The European names of places in North America have always fascinated me. I come from Europe and names like Warsaw, Paris, Vienna are full of meaning for me. When I hear these names I think about the history of these places, their culture, the books and movies based there, famous people who come from there, famous buildings and monuments they have, etc. A name of a place represents an unique legend. So it is rather strange for us to find little villages in Canada named Moscow or Lisbon. It inspires interesting comparisons and questions. (Photo above: Paris)

One of the most striking things is that these North American Warsaws and Varnas do not have much in common with the places that lent them their names. Let's take the origin of these names. Warsaw was named after the place of birth of local postman: Warsaw, New York. Paris derived its name from the Paris gypsum deposits found nearby. Moscow and Odessa were named to celebrate British military victories. Well, Athens was named with some thought about the 'original'. One of the local residents wanted its inhabitants to be as educated as people of ancient Athens. And of course all the English, Irish and Scottish names of places might have been elected by people of these nationalities, because they reminded them of home. But in so many cases people who named these towns did not know much about the old cities, from which they borrowed their names. And they still don't. It is actually astounding how many people living in these villages have no idea about the very existence of 'old' Varna, Verona or Odessa. Only in Paris there are some Eiffel Towers, of course. There are always Eiffel Towers in Parises, all over the States as well. (Photo below:Linhof Camera)

But this project is not really about the names. These names are here simply as a trigger for imagination. A reason for confrontation of the Old World and the New. This is a series about North America. I live in Ontario, so I documented how most of populated rural or suburban Ontario looks like, what is its aesthetic, its spirit, its values. But I could take these photographs anywhere in Canada or United States and they would be similar. I look at this subject sort of half from outside, half from inside. I come from Europe, but I have lived in Ontario for more than half of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I am Polish or Canadian, or maybe I am Polish Canadian, or maybe neither. When I was working on Lisbon-Moscow, I was trying to be fair to my adopted home. I tried to keep a balance, not to look only for ugly or funny things, but I did not look for the pretty postcards either. Choosing the places with 'European' names helped me to focus on what is different here, what is specific for North America.

For example, while Europe is small and densely populated and people must be thoughtful how to use the limited space they have, this new land is huge and empty. There is enough room for everything you want. It is interesting to observe how this infinity of space affects the architecture and planning here. There seems to be not much planning actually. It looks like things were just built wherever when they were needed. Nobody bothers too much if they match there in terms of aesthetic, or size or meaning. So you can see a monument of heroes by the side of shabby local store. Or huge subdivision in the middle of vast fields. Or ugly 'ready-project' houses among heritage buildings. Or twenty different signs with various warnings and information, instead of one large info board. That is related to another interesting thing the attitude towards easthetic. On one hand we have the enormous manicured lawns and an abundance of lawn ornaments. Putting aside the taste, it at least looks like a proof that people do care how the things look like. On the other hand you can see the businesses that look like they had been shut down ages ago, went into disrepair and then have been badly abused by hooligans, yet they are actually in operation the sign Open is flashing in the window and current specials are advertised outside. You can see objects originally meant to be decorative, which got damaged with time and weather and yet have never been removed. You can see rusted flag-poles and faded or torn national flags Another striking detail is lack of care for the past. You can see it for example in historic buildings mercilessly destroyed with modern 'improvements'. I could go on and on. No Trespassing signs everywhere, identical government buildings of fake brick, peculiar design of shopping malls, there are thousands of things specific for North America in general and Ontario in particular, which are really striking for an outsider.

One cannot help asking why things are so different here. Why there is no respect for history or care for easthetics, why the things look like they do? What we now see in North America, is an effect of melting of many different cultures. Everybody who settled here over past few hundreds years, brought something of their own culture, their own traditions, their own approach to life. How all these influences got mixed, how they have been struggling against each other, how they got uniformed and what was lost on the way, all those are issues for a larger study. I just wanted to add my modest contribution by documenting some of the effects of this fascinating cultural experiment as seen by one of its participants. (Above:working on Lisbon - Moscow, photo by Jarek Michalski)

The book Lisbon-Moscow, which is now in preparation, will contain 103 images, the final selection from over 700 photographs I took. For the website presentation I chose 48 of them. The exhibition set will be comprised of 60 photographs. Please, check out my News page for the information about upcoming shows. (Photo: colour negatives)
Artist statement for Lisbon-Moscow