The Year in Pictures - 2023
Another year, another dozen photos
This is the second year running where I’ve done a Year in Pictures. For me at least this year was an absolute shitshow for all it was worth. Seizures, fancy galas, trips to Ukraine, graduation, trying not to go bankrupt in Copenhagen, weddings in Detroit, and unfortunately to end the year, family tragedy. Although I’m sort of glad this year is over, it makes me a bit worried for whatever will come after the new year. Although it is only the movement of the planet around the sun in its astronomic simplicity, it is societally a time for change.
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After celebrating New Years among the celebratory gunfire in Detroit, I returned to Kraków where the last semester of graduate school was beginning. It was a cold, quiet month, with long hours spent at the cafe and nestled into bed with a bad movie or a good book. I also did my first group exhibition in almost two years at the end of January. Very last minute I was able to get into the one-shot, one night event and display two photographs that I took in Prague the spring before.
February was a cold and interesting month for me, because I started a new job working at an international school in the city assisting middle school students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or dyscalculia. It was a bit of a hard landing for me as I don’t have a ton of experience in teaching but it turned out to be far more rewarding than I anticipated. I was also lucky enough to be able to work my schedule around my university schedule, so I could work and study simultaneously. My part time job turned into 30-35 hours a week and sometimes even more, but even though I would be exhausted it was always fun to go into work. Not long after I started working at the school I took a long weekend and travelled around South-Eastern Poland, mostly in Lublin and Subcarpathian Voivodships. It’s known in Poland as being one of the more rural and undeveloped areas of the country, but the region has a fascinating and complex history, much like everywhere else in Poland frankly. The trip started a game of “train roulette”, where I pick a random city and get on the train and go, arranging all my accommodation on the way there. I went to Warsaw first and stayed with a close friend of mine before leaving for Lublin in the morning. Lublin is an old cultural center and fortress city in Eastern Poland. A grand center for Jewish life and culture before the war, it carries a deep history in the sprawling landscape of the potato and beet fields around it. After a lonely night at the hostel where I was the only guest, I woke up in the morning and took a regional train to the famous and curious town of Zamość.
As winter came to end the weather finally started to warm up, and work and school took back off again. We had the usual birthday parties, bar nights out, and dinner parties at friend’s apartments as per usual. March also turned into a medical mess for me, as I had a very intense partial seizure in February while I was at work. After navigating the private medical system in Poland I got an EEG and a MRI, in which I found out I had a super tiny spot of brain damage on my left frontal lobe. I also found that a lot of the issues I had been having with migraines, light sensitivity and sleepwalking were all related to some sort of epilepsy. The doctor couldn’t diagnose it directly because my symptoms are too sporadic, making it hard to measure the consistency and intensity of such episodes. March was also awful because I spent around 2 weeks in bed with a variety of fevers and sinus infections. I basically spent my month at the hospital and struggling through block scheduled classes and work.
April started off with a bang, as I was finally healthy again (not for long thought) and I went to Berlin to see the William Eggleston exhibition at ℅ Gallery with Eliza. I hadn’t been to Berlin in many years and it was great to visit Germany again. The gallery was also superb, with some of the photographic prints being over 2 meters tall. We also had friends and family visit from everywhere from the US to Spain. Once again more outdoor dinners and bar nights, with day long grocery hauls the next morning. It was a fun and calm month overall that we ended with a big Bayram brunch at Theresa’s apartment.
May was a hilariously busy month. Theresa managed to tear a muscle in her foot and nearly suffer a concussion on a long distance bicycle ride that we were taking out to a park about 20km outside of the city. An ambulance came and I found myself translating and arguing with doctors for her at the hospital while I was once again suffering another sinus infection. Work at the school went on as per usual and I started to fit into the job better and better each day. We had a fancy university gala that turned into a drunken exhibition, the museum night were we wandered thru Wale Castle, carrying Theresa up the stairs with her crutches, and finally toward the end of the month, the pride parade in the city.
As I spoke about in a previous article, I visited Lviv, Ukraine for a week in June. I went there with absolutely no expectations and ended up having one of the craziest trips of my life. From meeting local Detroiters, photographing and aiding with refugee relief, waiting in bomb shelters, and taking shots of horilka at every chance in-between, it was a life changing trip to say the least. The group I photographed, MedPsyLviv, is a psychological and trauma assistance group that operates out of the Lviv Main train station. Furthermore right after I returned from Lviv I went to a medieval cello concert in a village near Jarsosław that was hosted by a friends parents that own a small manor house from the Commonwealth era, and spent the night in Rzeszów doing one last group trips with friends before we graduated. The day after our cello concert I went to Krynica-Zdrój in the Beskid Mountains for a week for work. Two days into the trip my tooth developed an abscess and the local dentist drilled the wrong tooth, further exacerbating the situation. My jaw proceeded to lock completely shut and the multi-month long saga of the locked jaw and the dying tooth began. I wouldn’t get my jaw unlocked for another month after multiple grueling procedures (I didn’t receive anesthetic once through the 14+ procedures I had) and didn’t have the tooth saved and crowned until mid-August. Adea also visited during the middle of my dental episode, marking the first time in around 3 years since I had seen her. It was wonderful to be with her as always. It’s only after you endure such a shitty yet survivable ordeal that you can say it “builds character”, whatever that statement even means.
In the first week of July I went with Theresa, Eliza, and Gracia to Tatra National Park where we hiked and climbed to the top of Kasprowy Wierch, which is one of the highest peaks in Poland and in the Tatra Mountains. Eliza with a fear of heights, and Theresa still recovering from the cycling accident made this a more stressful hike than it was already turning out to be. Although by the end of the hike it granted us commanding views of both Poland and Slovakia.
In July I graduated from my masters program at the university and freed myself from student life for the foreseen future. Of course I brought the Mamiya with me and photographed as many people as I could at the ceremony. This is the class picture of our small cohort.
The week before the ceremony I travelled to Nice on the French Riviera and met my parents for a blazing hot week on the beach. We traveled up and down the coast from Antibes to Ventimiglia on the Ligurian coast in Italy. The photos above are from the town of Menton, the border town between France and Italy on the Mediterranean. From swimming in the Mediterranean, fresh seafood and decoding experimental Matisse and Picasso pieces at the museums, it was a relaxing and needed trip after a chaotic spring and summer. Right after the graduation we partied into the night and I left for Budapest a day or so afterward. Budapest is hot and humid in the summer, with the temperature rarely dropping under 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Our airbnb had a gas leak so we left and booked a room at the Astoria Danube on Astoria Square in the heart of Pest. With solid marble dining rooms and bronze polished elevators its perhaps one of the most famous hotels in Hungary for its grandiosity, built right as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was collapsing and the face of Europe was changing at lightning speed. By pure chance I was able to enjoy some cocktails at a grimy bar with my friend Anna, who was visiting from Cluj-Napoca for the week. July was hot and fast, the lead up to the rest of the year.
Boy was August a month. August was probably one of the most hilariously belligerent months I’ve ever lived in my life. After graduation many people moved from Kraków to a variety of cities around Europe, leaving a smaller group of friends than before. Of the people left, Baran, Joel, Jelmer, and myself decided to make the best of it and turned it into an unemployed pensioner-style boys month. Coffee and breakfast in the morning, job applications and thesis writing in the afternoon, followed by drinks in the evening. Put this schedule on repeat every day for a month straight and that was my month. It was the month that exemplified itself as the perfect hedonistic European experience. You’re unemployed but you still have money, and you have nothing to do but find a job and finish your thesis. Dinner parties, summer holidays, afternoons swimming at the lake, dotted with the occasional trip to Warsaw to conduct business and drink pricier beer. It was probably the first time in as long as I could remember where I could relax, but I also had the fast arriving deadline of September 25th to finish and turn in my thesis hanging over my head. Regardless of thesis deadlines, it was a month of hilarious camaraderie.
In the beginning of September not long before my birthday I went on a week long trip to Copenhagen to visit Adea. We went bathing in the Baltic Sea at Amager Beach, visited Malmo across the channel, went to cigarette stained student bars on Friday night and sang karaoke at Denmark’s oldest karaoke bar, Sam’s, which is in the back of a Chinese restaurant. Copenhagen is monumental in the very unique way that Scandinavian cities have everything you could want and imagine and yet still remain humble and homey. Overall it was fabulous, and it was great as always to see Adea.
The last week of September was a mad rush like no other to finish writing all 23,000 words (approx. 80 pages) to finish on time, or else be doomed to a January defense and a multi-month long delay on getting your diploma. I was able to finish my thesis at the zero hour the submitted, defending on Halloween and getting my diploma not long after.
At the beginning of October I went back to Detroit for a few weeks for a wedding. Bella and Shane, two friends from college in Detroit were getting married in the back yard of their house and I was invited to the small private ceremony. Seeing the Brown family again was wonderful and is always a pleasure. Life in Detroit was starting to slow down as summer came to end. I went up north to Gaylord and visited with my sister, saw the James Barnor exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and as always, got beers with friends.
Not long after getting back from Detroit I had to organize the opening of my debut photo exhibition in Krakow, located in the function room of Cafe Szafe. We started the night with the gallery opening and carried the after-party over to a friends birthday party at another bar. The night raged on and my head was ringing up until the day of my thesis defense on Halloween day. After a 20 minute long defense I shook the rectors hand and I was officially graduated.
November was the beginning of our bad movie night marathons. We cram into my 225sqft apartment and eat pizza and watch movies such as the very beautifully produced “Frankenhooker”. I also spent the weekend in the beautiful mountains outside of Kielce, visiting Świętokrzyskie National Park, a mountainous forest of old Polish legend where supposedly Baba Yaga and her fellow witches live. After hiking there I can totally understand why a witch would live in the fog laden forest of almost black colored trees. After our hiking weekend Adea visited to Thanksgiving week and we visited Łódź, which is Poland’s fourth largest city, and countries former industrial capital. The city sort of lived a similar story to that of Detroit, which made it feel oddly like home. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving at Baran’s apartment, where I cooked two canard a l’orange, using Catherine de Medici’s 16th century recipe to make it. I nearly burned down Gracia’s kitchen while making the glaze for the duck, but luckily the bird was spared, sparing Thanksgiving itself. To end the month, myself and a few others took a trip south-east of Kraków to Wadowice, the hometown of Pope John Paul II. We went there solely to try the locally made kremówka cake, which is a heavier version of a Napoleon cake.
December and the whole holiday season turned into a stressful ordeal faster than I could imagine. The month started with a much needed visit from Lorenzo, my great ginger friend from Milan. Hanukkah dinners and parties were attended and photographed, and I had my plans set to go to Cordoba for Christmas vacation. On the 15th my grandfather died quite suddenly in the afternoon. He had already been sick but he deteriorated with significant haste. I knew he wasn’t going to make it so I booked my tickets home and he passed a few hours later. Not long after I found myself once again at my parent’s house in SE Michigan, celebrating a disjointed and tumultuous holiday in the shadow of tragedy. Regardless of my original intent to see him out of this world, at least I’m able to come home and see family and ring in the new year with some of my closest friends.
An Ode to 2024 and Thank You
In 2024 I’m hoping for a less stressful and healthier year than 2023 was. Frankly I can really only wish for better health and full time employment once again. I’ll also be doing my best to stick out staying in Kraków, as I’ve never been closer with my community than before, and also because Polish citizenship is right within my grasp, I just have to survive the language exam and the bureaucratic process of applying and finishing the ordeal.
Every year I tend to thank a couple of people for their unwavering support and to the people that had a lifelong impact on me. Firstly I’ll thank my grandparents, and especially my grandfather Duane, for helping to support me since the day I was born. He’ll be missed dearly and deeply. Major thanks to my dentist, Dr. Krzysztof Chmiel, whom without his fast and accurate work I probably would have went septic and suffered nerve damage in my jaw. (Sorry for the late payment I still owe you for the crown). Thanks to Mariia Hershova for helping me find community in this foreign land. Thanks to Eliza Kotowska, for being a rock of support like no other, I think I would have crumbled without your support. A thank you to Sophia Brown, for being my rock of support back in Detroit. As always a thank you to my parents and sister, and to the long list of people that deserve my gratitude like no other.
Cheers to a new year,