Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cardiff After Dark

Last year marked Cardiff's centenary as a city. You'd never have noticed - Cardiff doesn't really do a reverence for the past. A couple of photobooks were published to commemorate the event but in all honesty they were disappointing. Lots of pictures of shiny new buildings and some politically correct portraits of carefully selected citizens. More like tourist brochures than a true representation of the Welsh capital city.

What they lacked was any sign of people interacting with each other and their environment. You couldn't accuse Maciej Dakowicz's subjects of not interacting with their environment - they're too busy urinating on it; throwing up over it; and crawling along it on hands and knees. But they are also kissing, laughing and loving there too. In short, there is life in his pictures.

Ten years ago if you'd wanted to photograph Cardiff you probably would have opted for black and white shots - gone for that gritty urban realist look. Dakowicz's realism is altogether more colourful and exuberant; spontaneity and drama the hallmarks of his shoot from the hip style.

There are other interesting features. Check out the way he uses artificial lighting in his night time scenes - his subjects illuminated by mobile phones, neon signs, club doorways. Another familiar Dakowicz motif is the way he wittily incorporates advertising into his photographs. The result: Cardiff perfectly captured in all its glitzy, vulgar postmodernity.

Of course people have been snogging and eating chips in South Wales since time immemorial. But the Polish lensman has arrived in Cardiff at a fascinating time in its history. After decades of decline the city is going through a phenomenal rate of growth and Dakowicz has plugged right into this boomtown energy. I have no doubt at all when future editors are putting together photobooks to define 'Devolution Cardiff' it is Maciej Dakowicz's work they will be using to represent the era.

Dakowicz's photographs can be found at photobase and flickr. As well as his Welsh pictures check out his Indian, Asian and Polish shots too - you'll enjoy them.

* Special thanks to Maciej for allowing me permission to use the above photograph.