michal luczak – the white house

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Michal Luczak

The White House

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Excerpt from a letter to Barack Obama, president of the USA.

“Dear Mr. President of the United States of America Barack Obama, We are students of a village school in Ukraine. Please, accept our sincerest congratulations on your election for the president of the USA. Our school is located in the village of Czernomin in the Vinnytsia Oblast. The school building comes from early 19th century. Its design is based on that of the White House in the USA. (…) We too have a school president, who has his own school ministry. We need substantial funds to restore our White House to its former beauty. Mr. President, we would like to ask you to help us renovate our monument. Your help will strengthen the relationships between our great nations: the American and the Ukrainian people. And our school will become a bridge of friendship between the children of both countries….

Yours Sincerely, Students of the Czernomin school complex”

It is the third time that the children of Czernomin are trying to save their school building this way. The two predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were not able to help. Clinton did not reply at all, and Bush maintained that the school is located within the territory of Ukraine, so America cannot get financially involved.

The Czernomin White House, or “the twenty-dollar bill palace” as the locals call it, was built nearly 20 years after its American counterpart. It was built for a Polish man of wealth, Mikołaj Czarnomski. He came to his riches thanks to a love affair with countess Zofia Potocka, for whom he worked as a treasurer. He stole money from his mistress until the truth came to light, and the romance came to an end. Czarnomski used the money he had stolen to build the palace, which was designed by the Italian architect Francesco Buffo.

The palace used to be a vibrant place. Mikołaj used to organize sumptuous balls attended by distinguished guests. In 1918 the idyll came to an end. The building was taken over by the Bolsheviks and turned into a proletarians’ home. In the years that followed the Czernomin White House was a German prison during World War II, and then an orphanage. Today it houses a school with nearly 180 students.

Music by the children from Czernomin school.


Michal Luczak was born in 1983 in Silesia, a region of southern Poland. In 2002 he studyied at the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University in Opava, Czech Republic. At the same time he studied Spanish at the Silesian University in Katowice, Poland, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree. In 2010, he graduated from the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava (M.A.).

He deals with documentary photography, producing long-term projects, such as Nikisz, presented at the Fotofestiwal in Łódź in 2007. His photo essay, The White House, was presented at 2009 edition of the Photomonth in Kraków and awarded with Gradn Prize in the Mio Photo Award in Japan. Since 2008 he has lived in Warsaw, where he works as a freelance photographer for Przekrój Magazine, among others. He has also published in Tygodnik Powszechny, Pozytyw and Private Magazine. He also works with the IMAGO MUNDI Foundation.

In 2009, he was awarded the Alexandra Boulat Scholarship for the Toscana Photographic Workshop, where he participated in a workshop with Anders Petersen. His latest project, Young Miners (a working title), was awarded an honorable mention in the 2009 Magnum Expression Award.


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18 Responses to “michal luczak – the white house”

  • What a nice little story. Both a bit sad, but also cute, I really liked it. I did not know there was a white house in Ukraine, so I learned something new. Nice photos. Looking forward to follow your work!
    Best Andrea

  • I really enjoyed the whole piece, the text added a lot to the multimedia and everything works well together. Good story and pace for the multimedia. Like the website also.

  • Beautifully done Michal, congratulations.

    I love your use of the video clips, the recorder music, it all works. I especially love the portraits, the quiet simple look you in the eye approach.

    Nice, it leaves me with a good feeling.

  • I really enjoyed your essay Michal, nice work on sequencing the video and stills.

  • This is really lovely, very sad though. It is incredible to think about how schools are in other countries, after growing up in one that was so comfortable! Great job presenting this to the world at large – I hope they DO get the money to renovate it!

  • I like it. Very nice and evocative. I have some trouble getting trapped into the time frame and in many ways would prefer to just have the pictures and the written words and to be able to browse at my own pace and not have the video at all.

    Still, the video and the audio do add a nice touch in their way.

    The artist must do what the artist must do and you did it well.

  • Congratulations Michal!!!!
    Your story is well made and addictive. It was nice to see it in Krakow and now here.

    Ania i Tomek

  • loved it!….

    reminded me of so many of my favorite films….from Freeze,Die, Come to Life to 400 blows to L’enfance nue to zero for conduct….

    the portraits, the environmental portraits are gorgeous….and the pics of the activities, ditto…..

    i also love, the odd, strange abrupt ending, lingering….the story as if very much it looks: a ghostly, nether world place in time….and this odd, fascinating connection between this White House (though golden) in Urkaine and the White House in DC, is so curious that it has immediately forced me to do a bit of homework as well…I love that you didn’t tell us anything historical, simply gave us this strange, ghostly, odd 4 minutes of this thread…a kind of curious butterfly effect….the brilliant life of life’s doppelgangers…..

    and their haunted/haunting music…

    above all, a world was opened to me, a place about which i knew nothing…and those cool, winter-fever colors and sadness….

    how little we know of one another…how grand we imagine ourselves, how small and frail, in truth…

    thanks so much…want to see the 68 minute film version next :)))

  • Very good photography however …

    Did the school write to their president Yanukovich? Ukraine is a rich country, rich enough to keep its monuments up to the standard.

    The story seems like an absurd based on a frivolous request just because of a look alike. What about other schools that do not share the look? Can they ask the president of Nigeria for some money? I’m sure there are schools elsewhere in Ukraine that look just like http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lagos_city_hall.jpg

  • Beautiful piece, and you seem to be quite young!!!!
    My only concern is how you go from photos to video keeping the ambient sound and interview going….
    I would have prefer a quieter soundtrack and a longer pause on some of your powerful portraits.

    Anyway, I must say this was really enjoyable and the story as a whole interesting and sweet but not cheesy.


  • Bill, you can have that here:


    I, too, prefer to have my own pace.. but then, it’s nice to hear their voices..

  • The think that’s missing is how would you contribute to the school? I know they wrote to the President, but what if individuals wanted to help. The message is compelling and a little sad. But the photographer could have indicated if and how it is possible to help them.

  • Thank you very much for so many coments!
    @bob black I have many extras (videos especially) if you like :)
    @Haik at that time Yushchenko was the president and the students wrote earlier to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. I think this story is not so much about the money for the renovation but more about the believe that the people from Czarnomin have something special that connects them with the “great world” and they are proud of it. It’s just this.
    @mimi mollica, I know this feeling – its always a big problem in multimedia when the pictures disappear to fast but on the other side you can have more from the people, you hear their voice, see how they behave, i like this possibility.

  • Thanks Michal !
    Again – great work.

  • fantastic work. gratsy michał.

  • Una estoria muy buena . Personalmente prefeiero solomente las fotos sin audio pero..
    En hora buena por la publicacion.
    Un saludo
    p.s. me gustan las fotos de tu pagina web. tienes un gran talento.
    sigue adelante

  • Michal.

    Well done. All the elements work very nicely together, video, still and audio.

    While the tone is cold and slightly depressed, I didn’t sense any self pity or sadness. I could use a healthy portion of a school lunch tainted with food poisoning. There might be a bit of humor in there.


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