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Photography Olga Sokal

Pasteloza: finding beauty inspiration in post-communist Polish architecture

In a new beauty shot, photographer Olga Sokal looks to the colourful shapes and patterns that cover the concrete flat blocks of her hometown of Belchatow

“Some architects say pasteloza started in the 90s. When communism collapsed in Poland, grey blocks of flats reminded people of the Polish People’s Republic so they started to paint them with crazy colours and shapes,” says photographer Olga Sokal. Many artists and historians have criticised pasteloza, calling it bad taste, but lack of money has meant the government has given up on real urban planning and care for aesthetics, Sokal says, and so nothing ever changed and the look lives on. “Pazsteloza is a way Polish people tried to deal with the past. Moving on from communism was not easy. In the end, many or even most of the blocks of flats in Poland are covered by those crazy colours and patterns.” 

Sokal hails from Belchatow, a mining city in central Poland, where most of her family works in the mines. Her work is usually documentary-style and focuses on post-industrial areas, but one day, when she was back home shooting images for her book, she realised that the wild colours and patterns that covered the buildings could be the perfect inspiration for a beauty shoot. “Eastern Europe is full of crazy interesting inspirations which haven’t been explored in fashion or art photography. Spending a lot of time studying in the UK and the US made me realise it is one of the biggest inspirations in the end,” she says.

To start the project, Sokal spent weeks just walking around and photographing, looking at all the different patterns and colours. Then, she and make-up artist Anna Kobalczyk chose the most interesting details which would translate well to make-up. “We wanted to find smart and interesting ways to translate all of those simple patterns into make-up. We looked at small architectural details like gutters and window facades,” she says. “It was a fun challenge because all these patterns and colours are very far from the typical idea of a ‘beauty shoot’. It inspired us to rethink and relearn what we know and think about make-up and make something very fun and experimental.”

The result is a playful but stunning series of images that find beauty and joy in our everyday surroundings. “We took something which many people consider campy or bad taste and transformed it,” says Sokal. I always like to take something most people dismiss or reject and turn it around. Only by experimenting and trying totally new things in the end, we can push the boundaries.”

Photography Olga Sokal, make-up Anna Kobalczyk, hair Ilya Bogdanovich, models Magda Kurczewska / madebymilk, Yebin Hwang / Uncovermodels, video Kacper Zywicki, video editing and color grading Kuba Kędzia, assistant of photographer Bartłomiej Kuś, assistant of make-up Evin Sonmez, post-production Dust and Grain, darkroom and prints Brooklyn Darkroom, studio Daylight Kolejowa