Damian Michał Heinisch (1968) is from Zabrza, Poland. For years, he has combined his commercial work with large-scale personal projects. Damian has an MA from Folkwang University in Essen, Germany.
“My whole life has been characterised by emigration. Previously, I kept it at arm’s length. However, five years ago, I started to confront the issue, resulting in a lot of contemporary material, strongly linked to a story that is personal as well as universal. I have produced an extensive body of photographic material during these years, but I need more trips to finish the puzzle”, Heinisch writes in his project description.
In the past four years, he has travelled around Europe, seeking traces of his family’s history, a family deeply marked by World War II. He has made major photographic studies in the cities of Essen in Germany, Gliwice in Poland, and in the Donetsk area of Ukraine, as well as near Carl Berners Plass in Oslo.
“My grandfather died somewhere close to Donetsk, along with several thousand others from Upper Silesia. On 16 February, he closed the front door of his home and left his wife and four children. He never went back to see them again”, Heinisch points out about his grandfather.
With the help of a friend, the same friend who buried the grandfather when he died in Ukraine, the grandfather’s diary was found and returned to the grandmother. This little diary remained in Damian Heinisch’s hands, where it was untouched for many years. He got it from his father, but he never dared open it. Damian was not prepared for the implications.
“In 2011, I asked my father to have it back, and I read the entire book. It was like opening Pandora’s box, a completely life-changing event. I was forced to change, and I understood that it was time to react.”
Damian Heinisch’s project has a conceptual structure. It is represented by four European nations, four seasons, four generations, four elements and four photographic methods, emphasising the cycle of life. Although the conceptual framework is fundamental, it is not the driving force. The different parts of the project are linked together in a historic timeline, beginning with the deportation and death of Damian’s grandfather in 1945. The selection of images is an attempt to capture the ghost that has been buried under the incredible brutality of World History, but that ghost still manifests itself in today’s world.
“The history of conflict is repeating itself again today. From that perspective, my project works at a universal level. The intention is to raise questions about topics related to deportation and emigration, but first and foremost, about everything that has been lost. Our common legacy.”