Warsaw, Poland-based Wojciech Grzedzinkski has witnessed poverty, warfare, and revolution through his work as an international photojournalist. Last year while on assignment for Republik Magazin, he ventured to the streets side-by-side with protesters to capture a massive demonstration that erupted all across his native Warsaw as the result of anti-abortion legislation. His images document a significant moment in history while serving as a vehicle to amplify the voices of the people leading the Women’s Strike.
The anti-abortion legislation made Poland one of 56 countries — yet the only country in Europe — to enact a serious restriction. For the last twenty years, Polish policy dictated that abortions were only legal if: the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s life and health, the pregnancy resulted from a crime, or the fetus was impaired and would not successfully be carried to term. The policy was changed last fall under the argument that it violated the country’s Constitutional protection of Human Dignity.
I live in a country where populists from the Law & Justice political party have started to change laws due to religious beliefs.
The protests, which were labeled by the local news media as the “Women’s Strike,” started in mid-October and lasted for two months despite Covid-19 health restrictions. The entire country seemed to rally in defense of women’s reproductive rights, with over 400,000 people challenging their government on the streets of every major city and town.
In one of the biggest protests, nearly 200,000 people stood for their right to have a choice.
With the number of people in attendance, it was difficult for Wojciech to weave through the crowds quickly. He found himself walking around 20km (approximately 12.5 miles) for each protest as he combed through the hoards of people, searching for the perfect moments to capture that would serve to chronicle this pivotal moment in Polish history.
For me, the biggest challenge was to be able to be in the right place at the right time to photograph moments as they happened.
In his attempt to capture an array of experiences, Wojciech focused on the protestor’s reclamation of public space as throngs of people blocked roads or climbed statues to be seen and heard. His imagery captured the assembled body speaking through their chosen symbol, a lightning bolt, which can be seen on signs, sweatshirts, and masks of nearly every person in the movement.
All of Wojciech’s photos were printed in black and white, which evokes the feel of viewing historical newsprint. He minimally edited the images to maintain authenticity and ensure compliance with the guidelines set out by the National Press Photographers Association.
The pictures were processed in a very basic way due to the Documentary Code of Ethics regulations.
The association requests that the images maintain the integrity of the content and context and that photographers do not edit them in a way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects. Wojciech’s experience as a photojournalist enabled him to approach this assignment with respect for all individuals he documented, including police personnel.
It takes a lot of courage to go out on the streets and protest. For me, it’s a privilege to show those problems and to document emotions. I think that there is nothing more satisfying for a photojournalist than being part of building awareness.
Whether or not social change happens abroad or at home, photographers like Wojciech are essential in the process of documenting history. They provide international visibility to pivotal moments happening locally that might otherwise be ignored or unknown outside of the city or country in which they took place. Wojciech’s photos serve to increase awareness by shedding a global spotlight on a significant cultural and political moment.