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Terminal Ballistics

In conversation with Kamil Śleszyński

We last spoke in 2017. What’s changed since then?

A lot has changed since our last conversation in 2017. My second son was born. Everything was upside down, and I began to focus more on my immediate surroundings. I analysed the relationships and processes that took place in my family, often wondering about my identity and what events and decisions led me to the place where I am now. I realised that I want to be the best father I can be for my children, and that to do this I had to first deal with the relationship between me and my father.

Let’s talk about your project Terminal Ballistics

The tensions between my father and I were largely due to the fact that I didn’t want to become a hunter like him, a role for which I was prepared for from an early age. Despite the expectations, I chose my own path – one consistent with my conscience and beliefs. However, I respect what my father does and have been looking for another way to share a dialogue with him.

Unexpectedly, it was photography that became an excuse to spend time together.

Being a hunter is a complicated matter. The first hunt may seem a harmonious act that has a deeper meaning; contact with nature, a sense of strength, community… All these factors contribute to the visible attractiveness of this action. But these are just appearances. Pressing the trigger is not the most challenging act; anyone can do it. The most difficult thing is what happens next.

I didn’t focus on the hunting itself when working on the project. I was interested in the consequences of pressing the trigger and the damage it could do.

What was your motivation behind making the work?

My main driving force was to understand why people are still hunting in times of relative prosperity – in many cases, it’s not about collecting food and survival.

I was hoping that by answering this question I would be able to know my father better. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is more complex than I thought and can not be answered unambiguously.

While working on the project, were there any moments that stand out to you now?

Hunting techniques are constantly evolving, but expanding bullets are still being used. This type of ammunition expands from the forehead of the bullet as it pierces tissue, taking a form similar to a mushroom.

The sight of such a bullet being taken out of the animal’s body after having been hunted was the biggest impression on me. Looking at the deformed bullets, we can imagine the damage caused. For this reason, they are generally prohibited from use in the army.

Photographs of such bullets have become the axis of my history. The title of the project is not accidental, because the definition of terminal ballistics (also known as wound ballistics) is a study of the behaviour and effects of a bullet when it hits and transfers its energy to the target.

You mention that the project was a way to open a discussion with your father about your choice to not carry on the family tradition. Can you share his reaction to the work?

My father is a simple man who follows his instincts in his life. It was hard for him to understand that I wanted to take photography seriously, and that I would not continue the family tradition.

However, his attitude changed slightly when he saw my photographs. He understood that I had found my way, that I would never be like him. In the end, while I worked on the project he tried to help me as much as he could. He knew it was important to me, and that was enough for him.

What’s next?

I returned to prison photography. I created my first project Wolka, a series about prisons and detention centres in north-eastern Poland. Simply put, I photographed men deprived of their liberty and recidivists.

After finishing this project I felt unsatisfied. I decided to start working with women serving imprisonment at the Białystok Detention Center. I want to know what a prison sentence looks like from a woman’s perspective.

Recommend us something you’re currently watching, reading and listening to.

Recently, I have been watching films by the Polish director and screenwriter Krzysztof Kieślowski. His film Camera Buff (Polish: Amator, meaning “amateur”) from 1979 made a big impression on me. The film is about a humble factory worker whose newfound hobby, amateur film, becomes an obsession and transforms his modest and formerly contented life. From now on, being an ordinary husband and father is no longer enough for him.

I picked up the film personally, because it shows how losing yourself in your passion can be devastating to a person. Camera Buff won the Polish Film Festival Golden Lion Award and the FIPRESCI Prize and Golden Prize at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival Otto Dibelius Film Award in 1980.

Tell us about a photograph that has influenced you.

The first photograph that made a huge impression on me was taken by Polish photographer Marek Dolecki. It was a black and white portrait of an old man in a fur cap standing in front of his wooden house. I remember that for a long time I was thinking about how you would take such a photograph; how to convince a stranger to become a hero of photography.

Searching for answers to these questions set the direction for my development and the way I began to photograph. I was lucky to meet Dolecki shortly before his death. I was working on my prison project at the time and it was thanks to Dolecki’s suggestions that this project took this form.

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