Rafał Milach is a polish documentary photographer and a multimedia storyteller. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland, and the Institute for Creative Photography (ITF) in Opava, Czech Republic.
For more than ten years he has been working on transition issues in Russian-speaking countries and the Central Eastern European region. His pictures have been honored with World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, Photography Book Now, and New York Photo Festival awards.
2006, he created together with ten other Central Eastern European photographers the photo collective, “Sputnik Photos”, to document, promote, and spread knowledge on transition issues in Central Eastern European countries.
Rafał Milach pictures have an artistic approach towards the present. He works with videos, where he captures the atmosphere of the places he visits, and give the people he portraits a chance to speak. Altogether it is is a great viewer experience.
“I shot this picture of 28 year old Denis in his bed in Moscow. His main occupation is doing nothing. He used to work a lot as a young boy traveling all round Russia and Eastern Europe with her mother. He comes from Kazakhstan but has lived in Moscow since he was 11. He misses the Soviet times when people where closer one to another. Today everybody runs like crazy.” On a technical note Rafal remarked “I try to shoot all my personal projects on film because it makes me calmer. I shoot digitally for my daily commercial and editorial work so when I have chance to shoot on film I do it with the greatest pleasure. Its another way of concentration and thinking. At least in my case. You have to think very carefully what you want to shoot if you have only 10 frames on film.”- Rafal Milach on Verve Photo
In “Disappearing Circus” Rafał Milach portrayed retired circus artists at places, where some of them had been working for over 30 years.
“Circus used to be one of the most popular mass entertainments of communist time in Poland. Artists who performed in the circus at the time were heroes beloved by crowds. At their glory days, Polish circus artists worked for the biggest and the most prestigious circuses all over the world. They all came from circus school in Julinek, which was considered one of the best in the central-eastern European region. Since 90-ties Julinek has been slowly dying. The circus base that employed up to 1500 artists and technician workers was closed due to financial problems. I portrayed retired artists who worked in circus for 20-50 years.” - Rafał Milach
I love the idea of the “Very Beautiful Project”, it was made in just 10 days in Lodz, Poland.
“My image of the place was nothing more than a few stereotypes. Very breathily: industrial, dirty and neglected. All of that is visually attractive for photographer. But what is beautiful for one can be disgusting and shameful for the other.
Following this idea, I’ve decided to ask Lodz citizens what is the most beautiful for them in their city. My role as photographer was limited to documentation of selected places, people and objects. The only condition was that everything had to be connected to beauty no matter what was the context. I portrayed the representatives of wide public choice, like regional beauty contest or pet fair champion. I also included few personal statements on what is the most beautiful in Lodz.” -Rafał Milach
"As most printed media is shrinking, and most magazines switch more and more online, I think multimedia has a great future. Multimedia gives the opportunity to present large essays, which is almost impossible in printed media today. Another advantage of multimedia is sound and video. We can’t show everything in still images. There are situations in which you want to hear the sound or to see how people move, look and speak. All these things give the possibility of creating a much more completed and powerful story. It’s really difficult to produce a good piece. It requires a lot of time and work from a whole team of people."
“In The Car With R” is Rafał Milach latest book, which was designed by Ania Nalecka (Tapir Book Design) and published by Czytelnia Sztuki Gallery in an edition of 700, including 50 Special Edition copies. It has 4 optional covers and each book contains a poster. ”In The Car With R” won the “New York Photo Awards 2011” and “Photography Book Now 2011”, you can get a copy here.
The book has a very innovative and beautiful design and manages to arrange the different photo formats and texts skillfully. It definitely gives a very intimate feeling to it, which supports the story as a personal road diary.
Rafał Milach teamed up with the Icelandic writer Huldar Breiðfjörð, and together they took the highway #1, the only road surrounding Iceland and drove 1450km within 10 days.
“We didn’t care about either the volcanic eruption that took place few weeks earlier or the economical crisis that made Iceland bankrupt. It was a trip of a local with an outsider and we both tried to learn of this place on our own. And we both felt coming back with more questions than answers.” - Rafał Milach
“To do the Ring” is an Icelandic expression that generally refers to travels on Route #1, the highway that encircles the country. To travel this road is something that most Icelanders do at some point in their lives and some even prefer to do it every summer. The reasons for going are of course different but many people probably set out with the idea that on the way they’ll learn more about their fellow Icelanders and native beliefs; that they’ll see more of their country. However, traveling on the Ring Road is a risky business. On the way you might learn something about yourself or your family, regardless of whether they live close to the highway or share the car with you. A lot of journeys on the Ring Road have ended in divorce but as a result of others, babies have been born. And there is no guarantee that you’ll learn more about Iceland on the way. When it comes to traveling (and photography?), what you see matters less than the way you look at it. We did the Ring. In May of 2010, driving a green Opel Astra Station, 1994 model. And we were back on square one ten days and 1450 kilometers later.” - Text by Huldar Breiðfjörð
"I enjoy first-person narration very much and, in fact, I am not that interested in portraying reality. I am much more into interpreting and processing reality. I don’t mean creating and arranging particular situations. To me it is more about choosing the parts that are in some way closer to me than the rest."
Rafał Milach interviewed by Mariusz Sledź on MODERNPHOTO
“Young Russia” shows the youth in contemporary Post-Soviet Russia, which grew up after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a long term project Rafał Milach started in 2004.
“For most of these people, USSR was a very early childhood. They are used to open borders and western pop culture flooding their homeland. For 2 years, I have been exploring the daily life of young people all over the country with the special focus on Siberia. I tried to cover as many situations as possible. I registered correction camps for juveniles, cadet’s schools, exclusive nightclubs and many ordinary daily scenes. During my Russian trip I’ve seen many positive things. I’ve also experienced situations showing that the transformation chaos is still very strong with little hope for change. I live in the country that belonged to former Soviet block and experienced the transition over a dozen years ago. That’s why I decided to observe young Russians in this transformation time.” - Rafał Milach
The series “Wunderland” is about the shopping center ‘Excalibur City’ at the Austrian-Czech border, which opened in 1993. It used to be one of the biggest duty free zones in the region. After EU enlargement in 2004 duty free zones were closed. ‘Excalibur City’ survived due to localization at the Czech territory and keeping low ‘Czech’ prices of alcohol, cigarettes and other goods. Reminding cheap replica of Las Vegas, Excalibur City is eagerly visited by Austrian citizens.
Within the last few years the number of Polish hunters going out for safari has been constantly growing. Not everybody can afford this expensive hobby and not everybody can be a professional hunter. Jewelers, petrol station owners, businessmen and even bakers head to Namibia, Tanzania or Kamchatka to search for trophies. The only key is money. Every hunter’s dream is to shoot down the big five: lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard.
Those who can’t afford the exotic safari and the big five, go for hunting to Belarusian forests where one can still shoot the species which are protected in Poland and European Union. Once the big five are dead, hunters prepare the place on their walls to fill them with trophies.
“Everybody wants to have the big five” says a local businessman and hunter form central Poland “My goal is to have the big five multiplied by five.” His hunting house looks like a museum. Dozens of stuffed animals from all over the world hang on his walls. The windows are closed to protect the exhibits from flies. „Everything is legal here” says the owner „I have papers for each animal” he adds immediately. Smuggling of protected species is also part of the business. Every year custom officers prevent few hundreds of endangered animals (some of them still alive) from getting into sole Poland. Taxidermists try to avoid doubtful assignments but not everything can be checked. Business is business.
“Black Sea of Concrete” is another series of Rafał Milach, that is devoted to the countries of the former Soviet Union. Assigned by a Belgium-based NGO, Altemus, to photograph contemporary Ukraine, it focuses on portraits, landscapes and the life of the people of the Crimea region. ”Black Sea of Concrete”, won the Grand Prize of “Photography Book Now”, print on demand at blurb.com. You can get a copy here.
“In December 2008 I started my trip at the Russian–Ukrainian border and the Ukrainian Black Sea coast. The beauty of the landscape side-by-side with overwhelming and omnipresent Soviet architecture struck me. I wanted to shoot the story in wintertime when the tourists are gone and the landscapes are raw and empty. Five years have passed since the “Orange Revolution” — when Ukraine gained independence from Russian influence — and I found people have already lost the hope for change. The coast showed me how strongly Ukraine is attached to its Soviet past. The first thing you notice by the sea is the concrete. Kilometers of grey blocks sometimes painted with blue and yellow, the national colors of Ukraine. You can feel the soviet past at once. It looks surreal and it doesn’t match the beautiful landscape that surrounds you. Industrial zones and the iron waste by the sea don’t remind harmonic idyll between nature and man. People have changed the landscape in a very brutal way here. But the sea fights back for its natural shape and territory. Local people seem to respect the power of the sea. Nevertheless at he same time they thoughtlessly devastate it. This wired symbiosis makes this piece of land fascinating. I went to the Ukrainian Black Sea coast to explore this mutual influence and relation between the man and sea. Ukraine is the country in transition and for the last few years has been looking for its new identity. In my opinion so has the Black Sea coast.” - Rafał Milach
“7 Rooms” was published by Kehrer Verlag, in an edition of 900 copies, including 100 copies, which are signed and numbered with a 13x18cm signed print. Ania Nałęcka (Tapir Book Design), who designed already “Black Sea of Concrete”, was responsible for the design and the text is by Svetlana Alexievich.
Over the course of six years, Rafał Milach photographed seven young Russians through Moscow, Yekaterinburg and Krasnoyarsk, and became drawn to the “people, food, drunkenness, taxi music and landscape.” Curator Liza Faktor describes Rafał Milach’s subjects as “in their 30s, they are intermediates between the ineradicable Soviet mentality and the increasingly anxious Russian mind of today. Rafał Milach’s search is the kind which is almost impossible to visualize. And yet, what he has here, in this book, is a fascinating and subtle journey into the loss of direction, into the sad and beautiful connection with our country.
„Milach’s search is the kind which is almost impossible to visualize. And yet, what he has here, is a fascinating and subtle journey into the loss of direction, into the sad and beautiful connection with your country.” - Liza Faktor, Founding Director Objectiv Reality Foundation.