« Saving a species at the expense of another »

POLAND – Białowieża Forest | 2016 – 2019

Excerpt from a photo documentary featuring:
64 photographs and 14 reproductions of lithographs from 1912 – A 12-page text

«Dad, what’s a primeval forest?»

The first time I ever visited the Bialowieza Forest in Poland, one of Europe’s last primeval forests and a World Heritage site, was in response to a question from my son Stanislaw, who was seven years old at the time.

Located on the border with Belarus, the 10,000-year-old forest park is a natural treasure chest with a unique ecosystem. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the forest is home to one of the largest populations of wild bison thanks to their reintroduction in 1952. The point of the UNESCO status was to save the rare species.

In return, the residents of the so-called «White Tower» forest saw their economic models and ways of life gradually take on a new form. For the most part they have accepted these constraints and adapted accordingly, returning to a traditional way of life, for they know full well that this is the only way to protect the unique wilderness from Man.

Young people have left, in search of a financial future, while the elderly remain, living in harmony with their native land. Tourism has developed at a considerable rate, slowly altering the landscape.

For three years, I would travel there to meet with the locals, in the company of my son, while calling to mind a rare 1912 collection by the illustrator Antoni Kamienski (1860-1933), which features 14 lithographs showing the way of life in this sacred Hercynian forest.

They told me their stories. They accepted us. We experienced the daily life of these people, may be the last generation of the old-growth forest’s native sons.

Mikolaj i Mara, Puszcza Białowieska, 2017