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Yaga, Agata Kalinowska (2022)
Photography Agata Kalinowska

Yaga is the new photo book invoking queer, anti-establishment witch power

Polish photographer Agata Kalinowska hopes her mystical, provocative imagery will create more space for women in the queer landscape

“I strongly believe in the legacy of queer culture,” photographer Agata Kalinowska tells Dazed. The Polish photographer’s recent monograph Yaga (published by BWA Gallery) is dedicated to making more space for women in the male-dominated queer world. The project came to life also as a part of the aforementioned queer legacy. In Poland, we lack those stories from the past that could help us navigate through our lives, avoid major fuckups, or see ourselves in other people’s experiences. These stories were always avoided, swept under the carpet. There were plenty of queer artists in Poland but their queerness was their second life.” 

“I wanted to use this diary to create a story that is not quite a biography but it works on different levels. It’s biographical but it also plays with that context, mixing chronology of images, constructing a sort of fairytale that is stretched between reality and fantasy, between experiences, clouded memories, and dreams,” Kalinowska explains. Like Nan Goldin, she feels moved to document the world around her. “Yaga emerged from 13 years of photographing my reality: friends, love life, people I was attracted to or in love with, my job as a bartender, and everything that was happening around this night lifestyle.”

The intriguing title comes from a “Baba Jaga” – an old witch from Slavic fairytales and mythologies. Dwelling in the woods and isolated from society, she’s an anti-establishment archetype, served by the animal and spirit world, yet cast out by society because of the danger she represents to the patriarchy. “Baba Jaga was an idea used to scare children, while older men – for example, priests – were authorities,” Kalinowska tells us. “But now there are women in Poland who empower such figures of older, independent women… women who know a lot about nature, power of plants, the importance of female and nonbinary friendships. They are Yagas, they don’t belong to the world created around beauty myths, they queer the system.”

Kalinowska attempts to move beyond the male gaze, beyond conventional expectations of femininity and constructed standards of beauty. Her vision is mystical but candid, tender, and provocative. “Men have decided what’s beautiful and what’s ugly for such a long time,” she explains. Alongside presenting an insider’s perspective of Polish queer stories, her hope for Yaga is that it will disrupt some of these prevailing pressures and insidious cultural constructs. “I think Yaga is part of the discussion about womanhood and manhood and it searches for ways to flex those ideas,” she reflects. “Yaga is about freedom and the vast spectrum of possibilities.”

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of some of the images featured in Yaga. 

Yaga by Agata Kalinowska is published by BWA Gallery and is available here