The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Two Songs

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Interesting collection of Polish pictures over at the Magnum blog from Mark Power. It struck me looking at them, and reading about the reaction to them by some people in Poland, how similar in many ways it is to Japan.

Now I love Poland, really love it, it has been home and love life for me a number of times and I loved it because it was easy see something Polish even in the headlong race to westernisation when I first started going there in the nineties. Japan too rebuilt itself very much in anothers image after the Second World War and like all countries escaping some period of darkness the brightness of America is what attracted the architects of peace and development. The trappings of that westernisation are everywhere these days in modern Japan. Yet these culturel idols of an identity borrowed are, by default, almost always applied inexpertly: apartment buildings tower over tiny houses and shrines, advertising is huge and garish, streets are neon and lacivious; foreign foods nutered; while malls and consumerism provide service as noisy as a market, and as mercenary, yet at the same time force the employees to lever-in alien levels of measured intimacies however impersonal they sound. Now some may argue that this gives Japanese cities their essential Japanese character and that is partly true. But that character is of a country with enough pride in its own heritage to make it unable to fully give up those parts of its culture that are incompatible with the image it want to present the world. Basically a modern “western” nation able to stand as equals with the America it both admires and hates.

To my mind Poland seems in a similar position. It was once the leader of the rebellion against Soviet control; a nation justifiably proud of its bravery and spirit; its culture and despite-it-all history. Now it is just another country in the European Union with the ancient nemesis of Germany to deal with in a way more intimate than it has had to contend with for Centuries. Like Japan with China there is a feeling of superiority and barely hidden jeolousy in those relationships. And now as nominal equals thay have to work out how they can be friends, rivals and partners all at the same time. There is also the, like Japan, the tacky display of the western cultural symbols: commercial hoardings are too high, too colourful and large and completely un-ignorable. Like Japan the countryside suffers as people develop at all costs. like Japan those with power have cloistered lives away from the damage they do to the ordinary citizens and cannot see the mess they are making.

And Like Japan there is pride in some of the shittiness, a feeling of denial that things are really not that bad, that ugly or that hopeless. Stoicism perhaps; ignorance certainly (especially in Japan) and stubborness in defence of the idea, born from the worst of adversities, that anything is better than what was escaped. And yet sometimes it isn`t: just go look at Warsaw, go look at Kyoto to see what I mean.

Anyway it is interesting work, rather removed and ironic, as is the style at the moment of course, but I like it anyway. Have a look.

The picture above is one of priests` robes hanging up to air or dry outside a church in Olkusz near Krakow. The Catholic church is still a strong influence in Poland. Yet that too is changing and where it will go is perhaps the most interesting dilemma for Poland`s development. That is another post however.

Bye for now.

Damon

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One response

  1. My lasting first impression of Kyoto was the exit from the shinkansen station. What a mess. Still, anybody who wants to walk around the universities of Cambridge first has to pass through Lion Yard. City planners? What do they know?

    November 15, 2008 at 9:09 am

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