May is a busy month for Polish Catholics because 8 year olds have their First Holy Communion. The church ceremony is a watershed event in the life of Catholic children, and their parents. The Church’s view is that First Holy Communion aims to prepare a child for a religious and pious life. In the build up to the event, children receive instruction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Girls wear white dresses with garlands (crowns) made of white flowers on their heads to show their innocence. Boys carry candles. A party follows the church service.
Czesław Siegieda (b.1954) was born in a displaced persons camp at Burton on the Wolds in Leicestershire. From 1970 until the eighties, he photographed members of the Polish community based in the East Midlands, treating them as protagonists of a small ‘theatrical world’ in search of a lost spiritual homeland.
Beginning with intimate views of his family members, he photographed the life and times of a community displaced by war and unable to return to their homeland. His subjects include daily life at home, religious festivals, Polish Saturday school, the Polish boarding schools, remembrance and commemoration.
Czesław Siegieda’s black and white photographs combine a street photographer’s sense of curiosity and intimacy. He has a natural affinity with his subjects; the work reflects his concern with humanity and human dignity.
Each year around Whitsun (the eighth Sunday after Easter), pilgrimages were organised from most Polish communities throughout the UK to two Polish boarding schools, one at Pitsford Hall for girls, Northamptonshire, and the other at Fawley Court for boys, near Henley on Thames. These annual gatherings had not only a religious significance, but were also important socially.
My purpose was to capture and deliver my own intimate experiences of the post-war Polish community I grew up in. I wanted to focus on simple things and scenes that would tell a personal story about the spirit of a people and of a nation who would not be broken either by war or occupation.