Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. The Poles of my parents’ generation held a strong sense of being part of a community, and had faith in life after death. Whenever someone died, it would become even more evident to them that one day they will die too. They acknowledged death as something natural and to be expected, especially in old age. For this reason, death was often part of a daily discourse.
My parents mentioned death on various occasions. They reminded us that we could enjoy health, by the grace of God, but there would come a time for all of us to depart. The older they grew, the more often they touched upon that topic as if they were getting ready for that journey to the other side. They instructed us what we should do, once they are gone. They talked about it as if it were something ordinary.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. Loughborough’s Polish priest Father Juliusz Kaczorowski was born in 1909 in Rzeszów, south-east Poland. He graduated from Lwów Seminary, studied at the Theological Faculty of the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów, and was ordained a priest in 1932. He was vicar of a parish and a religion teacher in Stanisławów and was there at the time of the Soviet occupation at the outbreak of World War II.
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.