Jerzy Wierzbicki, a Polish photographer based in Poznan, western Poland, is stressed out these days due to the war in Ukraine. He was drawn towards the heritage and culture of the Sultanate of Oman as a resident for 8 years from 2007.
Undertaking extensive visits to interior places from the sea shores to mountains of Salalah, Jerzy explored abandoned settlements and began to photograph them.
He describes each home as a time capsule as these featured old style interior designs, dusty antiques, faded artworks and scattered objects like clothes, furniture and others. Using a Mamiya camera, he shot a number of photographs of abandoned houses of Mirbat between 2013 and 2015.
Jerzy plans to publish the book ‘Eroding traditions, Eroding presence’ about abandoned homes later this year.
Interestingly, he discovered that the inhabitants of traditional villages were still alive and benefited from economic growth as they built new houses in the other areas of the wilayats. The locations which he photographed were among the less documented areas.
Jerzy had earlier worked as a photographer at archaeological excavations in the Middle East mostly in Syria and Turkey which could have fuellled his interest in abandoned houses.
Inspired by Robert Polidori, the Canadian photographer who documented New Orleans after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Jerzy’s work is much more complex with a precise subject for the book. This includes images of architecture, environments and interiors.
While Robert’s work was a massive one with consecutive ways of photographing and documenting destroyed cities. As author of the series ‘Hotel Petra’ he magnificently showed the beauty of decay in an abandoned architecture.
Jerzy first came to the Sultanate of Oman in 2007 and happened to notice photographs of Mohammad al Zubair, especially the old Omani architecture in Al Jabal Al Akhdhar and Nizwa, which had influenced his work.
“Abandoned houses were symbols of the cost of globalisation and the rapidly changing modern world,” says Jerzy. “Many of those places do not exist anymore, like houses in Al Haffa district destroyed in order to make space for newer buildings,” he adds.
When he first saw abandoned houses in Mirbat in July 2013 he immediately knew this is an important and interesting aspect that holds well.
Now it is almost 10 years from the time when he pushed the button in his camera taking the first photograph for the project but he still talks about these photographs. After years of intensive exploring the country, he is quite obvious of abandoned towns in Al Hamra, Bahla or Wadi Bani Habib, Kalbooh which he has featured in the book.
However, in Dhofar he found something absolutely unique.
“Natural processes of decaying in old Mirbat or Al Haffa in Salalah merged with Khareef climate that resulted undoubtedly in one of the most fascinating photography conditions I have experienced in my life so far. Omani architecture created one of the most valued moments in my life. Returning to these particular moments which I seriously appreciate the fact that I could do it despite odds,” he adds.
Jerzy used medium format Mamiya cameras loaded with traditional slide film and then a regular DSLR camera to shoot them.
Two years of hard work resulted in about 600 photographs.
His first book, a limited edition photobook titled ‘Sultanate of Oman’ was published in June 2020 and had over 90 photos of landscapes. The book is about the various places he discovered during the trips from 2009-2014.
Jerzy graduated with a master’s degree from Archaeology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. He loves to get back to the Sultanate of Oman and share his expertise in photography with young Omani photographers and support the local media.
He has come a long way from his high school interests in photography picturing Gdansk, his hometown, journeying through harbour districts and canals. Later, he photographed Silesia focusing on post-industrial areas and finally Middle Eastern cultures and much later as a press photographer.
Presently, he is working as a senior photography and multimedia teacher at ‘Lelewel’, a technical college in Poznan and as a guide with Kiribati Club, a premium travel company.
His proposed book will be an extension of his PhD project from 2017 under the supervision of Prof Mariusz Widedynski, an experienced Polish photographer and academic lecturer, who works in the Academy of Fine Art in Warsaw.