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Rafal Pruszynski


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I shot “Riverside” at the same time as I shot Little Pieces of us, and both are still on-going projects. The shooting, and showing of Pieces was a very intense experience since it was highly personal and highly intimate. I began Riverside first as simply a visually interesting project, but it quickly turned into a counter to Pieces. Whereas Pieces was very intense, Riverside was a way for me to get away from that, to step back, become more contemplative. Riverside and Pieces are opposites in many ways. One is black and white, one is color. One is more in the moment, shot on intuition, the other more composed. Riverside, became an escape from Pieces, and as such it can even be viewed as another side of the same coin. With Pieces I had co-authors very much involved in the project. With Riverside it was just me.

One thing I’m most interested in with the projects I shoot is to explore my immediate world. I don’t travel often and when I do I find that I am never happy with the photos I take. With my immediate surroundings I can take time to explore and to get what I intend. Most of the photographs in this project were shot within walking distance of where I live or work.

Riverside is a chapter in a larger on-going project entitled “Marooned”. South Korea though not technically an island, is still cut off from the rest of Asia by North Korea, a barrier more difficult to cross than any sea or ocean. It is therefore a de-facto island, an island I have been living on for the last 8 years. “Marooned” is my look at the island that has been my home for nearly a decade, and will remain so for another 2 years.



Rafal was born in Poland and moved to Canada at the age if 10. He has been living in South Korea for the last 8 years. He has had one essay previously published on Burn.


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Rafal Pruszynski



Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

29 thoughts on “rafal pruszynski – riverside”

  1. Rafal,

    I really enjoyed your pictures. These liminal spaces fascinate me and I found myself leaning towards my computer screen as the pictures hooked me; it took me a while to figure out what was going on and I enjoy that sensation of engagement and being drawn in by things I don’t quite understand. Your images reveal themselves slowly…. I’ve been experimenting myself with ‘edges’ – a couple of images now on my blog – and you have encouraged me to continue. Thank you for the inspiration and good luck with your work!

  2. I like the geometrical aspect of these photos. However, I somehow miss a little more close interaction with people. I love 3..it is just so strange with these swan paddle boats and the city skyline behind. Would be nice to have a face or silohuette pop out in the foreground somewhere…5..again very cool with the plume of smoke rising behind the white barrier, but how about a cat just strolling across the top to add another layer? Same thing with 9…what about someone close with a golf club?

    18 and 22 seem stronger. 22 is great but how about an old lady walking her dog in front?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s great how some of these photos are informative in a pure documentary sense, but at the same time carry some deeper hidden meaning. Some like 24 seem good the way they are, barren, isolated, flat in a way. Some of the others that I mentioned above seem like adding a little additional element could really add a punch by bringing the viewer deeper into the image. Cool project overall…

  3. hi rafal..

    i really enjoyed looking at this set as well as your last on burn..

    perhaps both are equally intimate in a sense..
    although i know marooned is by intention your description of south korea, i wonder if it might also be an expression of your feeling about the place you occupy there..
    poland, canada and now korea are such disperate countries to experience.. and ‘pieces’ being the project which really shows your base in reality.. contentment.. home.. this project is indeed the opposite..

    in the context of your day to day surroundings perhaps the abscence of people is therefore noteworthy?

    it makes me wonder how you have blended into life in SK.. if your relating to the ‘island’ has the second meaning of your circumstance.. feeling marooned..

    in any case – some finely constructed photographs in there..

    where are you guys moving on to in 2 years?

  4. David Bowen,

    The absence of people is very much a conscious decision. You are right about it reflecting my feelings about the country. I mean let me first say I love living in South Korea. There are far more upsides than downsides to it and I wouldn’t mind being stuck on this “island” for a longer time still. Still, as a foreigner blending in or assimilating isn’t really an option. I understand that, and am not resentful in the least, but I do find myself mostly keeping to myself when outside of work or home. Lets say I really only interact with my family and co-workers and that’s it. With the river here in Seoul I really found a place that can sort of reflect this state of being isolated, alone, or withdrawn from others. That’s really why you don’t see closer interaction with people. The thing I’m not trying to do is to shoot a documentary about the Han River, that has been done many times before, but I am trying to shoot a mood. That’s why I say that Riverside and Pieces are different faces but of the same coin. Both are autobiographical and not documentary.

  5. Stark. I love it, Rafal. I am weary of photographs that espouse the “get closer” philosophy without really telling me anything. This series seems removed but not detached. I agree with David – the series is extraordinarily intimate for the approach you have taken. I also like the way the essay sings; as I get to the end there is a noticeable crescendo. Truly refreshing work for me; I went back several times to look again. Bravo.

  6. You definitely got the mood and I love it. I am glad you have left people out. It might have just started looking like everyone else’s if you had. As it is, it has that cool quality that you see in some German photography. I like a lot of the images but particularly 9 and the one by the pool (number forgotten obviously). It always amazes me when people can make a banal scene beautiful and evocative. How do you do it? eg the weeds against the sky with a bit of some buildings showing up. If i took that shot, I just know I’d have thrown it in the bin. I guess some images work mainly because they are part of a series. The fish dragon (if that is what it is) doesn’t really work for me though. I don’t think it fits with the rest.

  7. “Creation, to me, is to try to orchestrate the universe to understand what surrounds us. Even if, to accomplish that, we use all sorts of stratagems which in the end prove completely incapable of staving off chaos.”–Peter Greenaway

    I have to confess that i love this story and I love, in particular, this edit.

    But I must confess some personal bias. I have just returned, late into the pigeoned night, after a long night of photographing, and in particular, photographing Korean students and Korean immigrants. I also have to confess that I have seen this series from it’s nascent beginning and let me say that it not only has grown but has become even more intimate, more personal and more poetic has Rafal has taken the time to ruminate and allow both time and the seasons to unfold in front of him. In many ways, to me, it is just as vibant, just as person and just as rich in it’s pagentry and it’s family-song as “little pieces of us” for in truth, this essay is indeed about the little pieces of Rafal’s life along that somnambulant river, which in truth is a clock of his and his family time spent marking apart the clicks of his life in Seoul…..

    In many ways, to me, this series is as intimate a gesture of a person who is living in a particular place as I’ve seen. Of course, it immediately reminds me of Greenaway’s “Drowning by Numbers”, the passage of stilled place and markings, the gyrating pitch of people and land and objects by which we count our days and ways in a place, a place that is both alien and familiar. How does one being to speak about a place that has entered us, how does one speak about a place that appears to be not of us and yet we, oddly, feel connected. How does one express to another the small moments and small details of a place that we anchor ourselves to in order to not only speak of that place but to speak of what that place has given to us.

    Though the series and the pictures seem at a reserve, appear to be photographed with distance and dispassionate observation, but in truth (for me), there is great connection and intimacy. Notice how these gorgeous and funny and ultimately ‘human’ swam-boats travel through both time (seasonal) and emotion. We see the movement from observational and pictorial celebration toward something much more intimate. What began as a cool and interesting object in the frame becomes a personal and intimate connection. Do not these swan-boats become more than interesting pictorial elements? Within each of the beautifully frame and constructed pictures, there are small beats of human hum, like the sound of heels clicking amid the drone: the woman on the cell phone in the car, the family negotiating backing amid a swarm of cars, the plum of smoke over the horizon, the light in the window of the house that is swamped by the forest of grass in the foreground, the mother and the child playing a game at night, the tiny golf balls against the enormous landscape of apartment buildings, the blackened sweat of a body on an old couch tongued over the river, the tube that feeds the tree on the head of an apartment, the sliver of ice that awaits off the shoulder of a women in winter, whose read hat contrasts like breath against the cold of the river, a lone couple barricaded by wall and river, as if the only survivors in a city torn away, a blume of white smoke against the backdrop of a oxblood embankment, a white tissue as if a beacon from STalker, etc etc etc…

    it is an exceptionally intimate, poetic and love-filled ache. In opposition to much of the ‘cold’ distance that often defines stories of reserve (dusseldorf school), this series is filled with ache and longing and sadness. It is absolutely contemplative, but more than that it is marked by small moments of huger and celebration. Rafal (to me) is a thoughtful and observant photographer, but it is not the keenly composed photographs that speak to me (though almost every photography is beautifully composed and framed), but the quiet tenderness that fills each of these pictures. In many ways, i am drawn even more to this work that the ‘family’ photographs, for it seems that Rafal’s celebration and emotion for both this city and this place (by the river) and his family can be even more keenly tasted in these photographs, for he has waited, he has chosen to listen, to look to see what appears to be cold and almost inhuman (amid all those concrete towers and pavements and buttresses and parking lots and power generators) comes through as extraordinarily human…..

    are these swan-boats not celebrations of his son?…peeking between the wine drapes…..is not that lone man, mask and all, not some part of seeing, amid all that open space, ourselves….the bones floating on the water, the snow packaging the movement….is this not a love song, a song about both distance and approximation…..an ache….a contemplative act of joining….

    and then there is his wife in son (forgive me Rafal if i am seeing or revealing too much) in picture #21….there they are, and this is not the intensive closeness of the lense, but the observation of a person fully attuned and realizing that something that means so much, something that ties him to that of which he is a part is still set in the horizon….an extraordinarily ache-filled image….and for me, a profoundly truthful one….

    i couldnt look at these pictures without thinking of both The Host (korean film) and Greenaways Drowning by Numbers…..not as reduction, but as connection….

    beautiful photographs, carefully observed, but more importantly (for me), filled with a profound ache….

    composition as realization…..

    call me sentimental, this late time in the night, but it is an extraordinarily intimate and beautiful celebration and calculating picture of that which is front of you, that which marks the days of your life, and how best to speak of that…..

    to celebrate that which is nearly impossible to articulate….the absence of that which you wish to express to others, and those most close to you, and how that means so much….

    gorgeous and heart breaking….

    composition not as conceptualization but as heart beat….

    to-tum, to-tum to-tum….


    gorgeous and then come the tears…


  8. This is fabulous! Contemplative story from one more emerging photographer… What camera did you use?:). I wannabe artist and emerging phtographer as well:).

  9. Those are great words Bob, and you are correct about #21. Good call.

    Ive never heard of Counting by Numbers so I googled it, and it looks interesting. I dont think I could rent it anywhere in Korea though. The Host though Ive seen and loved it. One of the movies I really loved was Vanilla Sky, especially the scene where Manhattan is totally deserted.

    David, large format would be great but not right now due to financial reasons. Eventually though it would be a dream.

  10. Rafal,

    As I finished watching the essay, I thought I would give you a piece of advice about going large format….but after having read the comments it wouldn’t be too original, would it? Nice work is all I can say.

  11. Rafal, you drew me into your world frame by frame. Not just your outer world but your inner world as well. Especially your inner world. The place where you stand and watch the river, see the lights of the city, feel at home and not at home all at the same time. You stand apart from this place and these people but also let them inside the most intimate spaces of your heart, for the beloveds of your life–your wife and son–are of this place and its people. I feel this ambiguity, this paradox in “Riverside.” I also experience your humor, especially in the images of the swan boats.

    This is a strangely deep and moving essay, one in which few humans are seen but human emotions are at its core. Like Bob, I have seen this essay evolve from its humble beginnings and am awestruck at where you have taken it. Bravo, Rafal. You define the term “authorship.”


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  13. Really stunning pics upto about 22 when, apart from the title pic, the emptiness of most of the images seemed a little bit (if you`ll excuss the irony) like fillers. Sorry Rafal but I think the first shots you have put up are truely amazing at capturing the huge, impersonal size of Seoul. Though I know that is the point of the photographic story, as you outlined it, I am still left shocked at how Seoul can look so much like we imagine North Korea to look like or the concrete Utopian landscapes of Communist Europe. Even the desperate splashes of colour like the painting on the concrete river bank only add to the feeling of denial about the ugliness of the place. I love that you have so effortlessly captured that. Myself, when I visited Seoul the river just seemed too big and remote to even be part of the city and I mostly ignored it prefering to spend my time in the streets and alleys where the life seemed to be, here you have put it in the foreground and shown the city rising around it like a distant, as yet unknown land (or island) seen across the sea. Genius.

  14. to celebrate that which is nearly impossible to articulate….
    You will never be faulted for not trying, Bob!!!! :-)

    Though comparison (and lineage) was frowned upon here lately, I must say that your landscapes, Rafal (inner and outer…All is said?), bring to mind work done under the stimulus of what is now referred to, as the DUSSELDORF school (from which people like Struth, Gursky came about).

    Probably why i instantly lamented the size of my screen, ie. too small. But maybe the idea that the images should be printed “big” is a pavlovian reflex acquired after being acquainted to the work of the artists cited above. What we could ask you first is if you have print size in mind, and also if the pixels would bear a large printing format.

    For me, what is celebrated here, is the very simple fact of looking, and the task at hand being of course, to make it the art of “very simply: looking!”. Therein lies, of course, the basic covenant in all arts. To have the outer reflect the inner.

    Photography, because of all the possible interpretations, including denial, one can give to the simplest picture, and because it is after all so easy to look and capture what is looked at (but a lot less what is “seen”), often trumps us in refusing to see what is looked at.

    And as often, refusing to look at what we see
    (the reason why, for ex. editing our images is so difficult, and why so many think they have seen enough and therefore a picture becomes “good enough for me”, why look when you can…. see?).

    So for me, and i like very much your work here BTW, Rafal, what is striven for here, and ultimately what brings such type of work home, no matter if it happens consciously or unconsciously, is achieving the perfect balance between looking and seeing, outer and the inner, space and emotion.

    I must say some of the shots seem a bit off from the rest, less succesful then, especially the 2 first night shots (3 and 4?).

    The few images with one single human presence, here or there, show us you may be perplexed at times, and even amused too, but not alienated. I certainly do not feel alienated, personally. But rather familiar, and (maybe the suburban creature in me) totally at home.

    In that sense, the accents provided by the appearance of wife and son, of a woman and a child, could be necessary inflections in your essay.

  15. I am in between…
    I don’t know why…

    Probably because between the speech and the images I feel a certain pretention in the words that is not achieve in the photographs. It disturb me as far all the images are good, but really “déja vu” and doesn’t respond to the text, I would keep only 3 of them.

    I don’t see any intimacy at all but empty parking and a crasy asian modern city among a the other side of the river as many other asian country amoung a river…so if the text push me to imagine that it is intimacy because your girlfriend is waiting you alone in the car (#4) I am perplex with all the words you wrote and some others I rode in the comments.

  16. Damon,

    that’s true about the river. It doesn’t help that the river is almost totally cut off from the city by two huge highways running alongside it on the southern and northern end and that access to it is frustratingly difficult. You can only access the river if you know where the access tunnels are and they aren’t easy to find. Other cities use their rivers far, FAR better than Seoul. But that’s changing slowly. There’s a huge development project now happening here, called the Han River Renaissance project, and they are trying to integrate the river into the city much more by creating more recreational spaces such as pools and beaches along the river to get the people to come to the river. They still need to make access to the river easier in my opinion. The size of the river is something nobody can really do anything about though.

  17. kathleen fonseca


    I love this so much. I really have the feeling that you are seeing your surroundings as only an outsider can. An outsider who has been living, breathing, absorbing and sharing this world with natives, yet always ever so slightly still an outsider. Enough to really, really see, sense, feel all of it..this place has cut you like a knife yet your views are palpably tender, poignant, ironic, close, far, intimate, lonely, yearning..i get a push-pull feel. A certain ambivalence but a knowing fondness that comes from having passed through the phases—total newcomer to maybe wishing you were somepplace else and then coming through the other side to wary familiarity, respect, acceptance, tolerance and appreciation. To me, a stunning offering of your inner world as told through your views of your outer world. Congratulations. Oh yes, you also give very good sky. :)


  18. each frame..
    so beautiful…
    a compass,
    finding direction…
    the lines of
    are poems
    would like to see
    but your
    is strong
    if you want to stay this distance,
    definitely explore a larger format:))

  19. Beautiful and sensitive set of pictures.. I am impressed that you manage to see and capture your immediate surroundings with such fresh eyes. Maybe because you still feel like a stranger there..?

    The work and your words made me curious, what made you move to South Korea?

    Again, I really like your work, the mood, the distance, compositions, emptiness but with content. Good luck with the project!

  20. Glad to see pictures about Korea, Koeran. I am a korean and live at hand Han-riverside.

    Your pictures are very interesting because i have been Han-river about long time, but never feel about lonely and sorrow. But after see your pictures I realize that our city is so dark and aloneness.

    Here Burn Magazine I see many pictures about Korea. I think many photographers interest for Korea. On the one hand I am happy because country’s attractive, but other hand very sad because they interest about politics and desolated cities.

    {bad english sorry :) }

    Any way, your pictures brilliant. cheers!

  21. I’ve spent a bit of time in seoul watched the ‘monster’ movie got intwined with troublesome Korean women right before they were about to marry their longterm childhood boyfriends, twice. Your take on the river seems to expressing that latent feeling of exhaustion and ennui at the ‘Seoul’ of modern South Korean life. I have found Koreans to be some of the most interesting mixed up beautiful people in the world and have spend nights drinking Soujiu out of bowls confirming that. From your essay I see stranded, baron, lifelessness, estrangement etc which I guess is what you are trying to echo out of your experience of Seoul. I does not reach me though, I find the images of numbers or letters on the ground to be lost themselves and not really communicating anything expect the stranded theme. I think if you have a theme like you do each image need to take small step in a different direction from it justifying the selection of the theme in the first place and giving the theme character than belongs to the place. One or two of the images do this but the numbers and letters and last shots of bits of trash and a calling card I think are to crass and easy to include and weaken the mix rather than bolster its foundations.
    I have no problem with distance and people, but web is not the place to see it though. Being able to make out the people clearly in a larger environment can really make the image and a I guess thats why the calls for large format have been made. Its seem though that you use a point and shoot with flash. I don’t think you could take these shots on large format though, setting up a tripod focusing at night with flashlights etc. Large format will take you and your project somewhere else which may be great but you will loose a lot of what you pictures a currently hold in terms of style.
    I guess what i’m saying is that there are more complex ways of saying what you are trying to say than falling into the categories here i.e car in parking lot, dried up tree, calling card on the floor etc.. from a look at you website I think you could benefit from going over all you work and trying to realise the potential of your theme in other pictures you have taken. The lantern festival pics with the one guy on the hill with one hand behind his back wearing safety jacket head down, speaks to me volumes more about isolation than these photos (but I guess its not a river photo) ok i’ll shut up or i’m going to swallow my own tail, congrats.

  22. I think you’re good at observing nice textures and I like what you’re writing about not being happy with pictures you take when you travel; to me that alone is a good enough reason for starting a project. Your photography seems very inspired by “Approaching Nowhere” by Jeff Brouws (am I right?).

    My favourites here are the snowy parking lots, the blue car against the wall, the ship in the landscape and the white parasol against the dark landscape. Also really like #12 with the all the grass, reminds me of the intro of Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” where the camera suddenly turns down into the ground. On the negative side I’ve noted there are too many wide landscapes without a clear detail that stands out – I would consider dropping 06, 09, 20 and 25.

    Good luck with more work with this, hope I can get the chance to see where it will lead. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Very nice photography. Would prefer to see them as part of Marooned, as this is probably too much of a play on the same motives for such a lenghty essay. I’m with Marcin on the larger format, as most photographers working with it don’t use many of the little compositional games present on this essay. On the other hand, it might anchor you down and the series loose the dynamics. This would make a nice quiet exhib, but on my way walking back home I’d wonder if I’ve seen really into the heart of the essay or been taken away by the compositional games that are probably its strength and weakness.

  24. I dont know. I can find no link between the statement and the images. They seem like attempts to make ‘interesting’ ‘contemporary’ pictures. I can find nothing in them that holds my interest (except 9 which i like as a standalone), and certainly nothing that binds them together as a story.
    I agree that LF would probably lift them somewhat, add some needed gravity, but would that by itself be enough?
    Saying all that though, many people seem to like the work. Which is good.

    A telling point is that Joni said Had he seen this in a gallery he would go home with questions. Whereas I would not ever go and see work like this in the first place.

  25. Simple Arithmetics…
    Algebra… Trigonometry…
    i bet that Rafal is excellent when it comes to mathematics…
    The exact opposite of my “right” brain of thinking…
    but regardless…
    Rafal i admired this essay…
    your way of photographing which is something that even if i wanted to mimic i wouldnt be able to…
    and thats good.. thats great…
    All pre-thought..
    all pre-designed…( Joni Karanka nailed it )
    I’m supposed NOT to like the above essay… but i loved it…
    you know why????
    simply because its not pretentious..
    not at all…
    thats exactly who Rafal is… ( or at least who i think he is …)
    A “dictator”… a little Stalin…
    laughin… but not joking….
    Rafal represents exactly the Opposite of my artistic beliefs…
    I cant picture Rafal smoking a joint or even jumping from the 6th floor of a building
    into a swimming pool….
    Rafal is not a “jackass” like me…
    and … nothing wrong with that….
    Honesty i see here…
    Pain and Loneliness i see here…
    Loneliness that i totally connect…
    Thank you Rafal…
    honesty… i relate….
    Great essay…
    One of the best published here…
    Bottomline: ” i loved it”..
    i loved it
    loved it
    love it
    loved it………..

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