New East Digital Archive

Polish photographer Karolina Sekuła and skater Gonzi on mental illness and strength

16 November 2016

Polish photographer Karolina Sekuła first met 19-year-old skater and painter Gonzi at a skatepark in London. When Gonzi returned to Poland, having suffered for sometime from episodes of paranoid schizophrenia after taking drugs, he agreed to collaborate with Sekuła on an intimate project that reflects on personality, inner beauty and courage.

For A boy the photographer captured Gonzi in a range of settings, then giving him free reign to add to and adapt the photos. Taken predominantly in Łódź and Warsaw, the photos take on a new dimension, echoing Gonzi’s personality.

“I think that his contribution to the work is the key. The photographer usually says his vision/version of the story, filtering everything through their own feelings. I am now sure that these pictures are truly about Gonzi,” says Sekuła.

This innovative project is remarkable in its sensitivity and regard for personal experience; the works make no attempt to represent or suggest any kind of universal experience of mental illness. Instead A boy focuses on Gonzi’s individual character and the rich experiences that feed into his unique personality, in particular exploring the central role of skateboarding in his life.

“The most fascinating to me in this boy is the balance which he tries to achieve in everything he is doing. [...] He has the courage to do things his way. He is a mix of resoluteness, consciousness of life, rebellion, wildness and vital energy in one body,” adds the photographer, who believes that we must become more intimately acquainted with the experience of mental illness.