“When photographing, I had to wear protective goggles”

a photo gallery by Natalia Kepesz

The new Poland (Issue III/2021)

  • A man in his older home on the outskirts of the small Polish town of Złotoryja. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    A man in his older home on the outskirts of the small Polish town of Złotoryja. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • In the backyards of Złotoryja, where many locals have extended their own homes or built make-shift garden sheds themselves. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    In the backyards of Złotoryja, where many locals have extended their own homes or built make-shift garden sheds themselves. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • A Złotoryja local. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    A Złotoryja local. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • At one stage, gold sand was found in Złotoryja's waterways, which is also why the Germans call the town Goldberg. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    At one stage, gold sand was found in Złotoryja's waterways, which is also why the Germans call the town Goldberg. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • One of the larger apartment houses in the Złotoryja area. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    One of the larger apartment houses in the Złotoryja area. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • A tree house built by Polish border guards on the Czech border. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    A tree house built by Polish border guards on the Czech border. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • Fully equipped: The co-organizer of a military summer camp for local youths in Mrzeżyno forest near the Polish coast. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)

  • A bird house for doves handmade by locals in Wałbrzych in southwestern Poland. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    A bird house for doves handmade by locals in Wałbrzych in southwestern Poland. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • Two sisters in Złotoryja. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    Two sisters in Złotoryja. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • The break: A Złotoryja woman pauses for a rest after helping her mother clean house. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

    The break: A Złotoryja woman pauses for a rest after helping her mother clean house. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Goldberg series.)

  • Participants at a summer camp in Mrzeżyno undertake a military exercise. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)

    Participants at a summer camp in Mrzeżyno undertake a military exercise. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)

  • A boy poses at a military weekend camp near Gdansk. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)

    A boy poses at a military weekend camp near Gdansk. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)

  • Water sports: A youth dives in the pool with his rifle at a military camp in Mrzeżyno. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)

    Water sports: A youth dives in the pool with his rifle at a military camp in Mrzeżyno. (Photo: Natalia Kepesz, from the Niewybuch series.)


Ms. Kepesz , we're publishing pictures from two different series you've created. You were born in Złotoryja yourself and you've called one of the photo series Goldberg, which is what we in Germany call your hometown. What sort of things do you associate with the place you grew up in? 

I know the feeling of rootlessness very well. No families in Goldberg have lived there for many generations. Because when Lower Silesia became part of Poland after 1945 [and the end of World War II], the Germans that had lived there fled. You can find the wonderful old ruins of their houses in the middle of nature there. I always remember how, as children, we'd climb around in those ruined old villas, looking for treasure. A lot of the people who lived there had to leave very quickly and they left their valuables behind. We would always find old porcelain or jewellery. There are also a lot of stories about that area. One was the rumour about the “golden train”, which said that at the end of WWII, a train carriage full of gold and jewellery was hidden somewhere near Walbrzych. Apparently it's supposed to be the  long lost treasure of Wroclaw. Even today people go into the woods searching for it. 

Your second photo series, named Niewybuch, shows children playing war games in military camps. What gave you the idea of photographing them? 

It's become popular for parents to send their children to summer camps or weekend camps where they do military drills. I find the idea - of training kids with weapons that are not at all age-appropriate - a difficult one and I wanted to tackle that. 

Some of the pictures are very martial in nature and show armed children wearing unforms. What was it like photographing those scenes? 

I felt quite emotional. At times, it really felt like I was at war. When photographing them, I had to wear protective goggles because even though they're just shooting plastic pellets in the forest you can get hurt. And the children were all very earnest about it. Nobody stepped out of character. 

What sort of role does military education play in the Polish education system? 

The “child who fights” is an heroic sort of figure in Poland. Even when I was at school, it was an important part of our history lessons, to learn that children had fought for the nation too during WWII. However since the [right wing] Law and Justice party has been in power, there is much more nationalistic content in Polish lessons. The army and a military education are seen as very positive, which doubtless accounts for the attraction of these military summer camps. It actually irritates me.

Interview conducted by Gundula Haage

Translated from German by Cathrin Schaer



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