Rafał Milach is a Polish visual artist and photographer. His work is about the transformation taking place in the former Eastern Bloc, for which he undertakes long-term projects. He is an associate member of Magnum Photos
. Milach's books include 7 Rooms
(2011), In the Car with R
(2012), Black Sea of Concrete
(2013), The Winners
(2014) and The First March of Gentlemen
(2017). He is a co-founder of the Sputnik Photos
collective. He won a 2008 World Press Photo
award. 7 Rooms
won the Pictures of the Year International Best Photography Book Award in 2011. In 2017 his exhibition Refusal
was a finalist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.
Milach was born in 1978 in Gliwice, Poland. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice in 2003 and the Institute of Creative Photography (ITF), Silesian University in Opava, Czech Republic. With ten other Central Eastern European photographers, he co-founded Sputnik Photos
, a collective documenting transition in post-Soviet states.
For his first book, 7 Rooms
(2011), Milach accompanied and photographed seven young people for several years living in the Russian cities of Moscow, Yekaterinburg and Krasnoyarsk.
In the Car with R
(2012) was made on a 10-day road trip, driving 1450 kilometers around Iceland's circular Route 1. Milach made photographs and his local guide, the writer Huldar Breiðfjörð [de], made diary entries.
Black Sea of Concrete
(2013) is about the Ukrainian Black Sea coast, about its people, of whom he made portraits, and the abundant Soviet-era geometric blocks strewn along the coastline.
Milach spent two years in Belarus from 2011 exploring its dire economic and political situation. Belarus is "a country caught between the ultra-traditional values of an older Soviet era and the viral influence of western popular culture."
Milach was interested in the clean, tidy glamorous facade maintained by the state. His book The Winners
(2014), portraits of winners of various "Best of Belarus"
state and local contests promoted by the government, is a typology of state propaganda. It depicts mostly people, but also anonymous interiors that had won awards. The obscure official prizes are intended to foster national pride but to an outside audience might appear tragicomic. Milach travelled around the country working in the role of "an old-fashioned propaganda photographer".
He was guided by the authorities as to who, where and how to photograph, a process which only improved his revealing the ideology of the state. Milach has said "the winners are everywhere, but the winnings are not for the winners – they are for the system"
, "the state is not interested in individuals, only in mass control."
The First March of Gentlemen
(2017) was made on a 2016 residency at Kolekcja Września to make work about life in Września. The town is synonymous with the Września children strike, the protests of Polish children and their parents against Germanization that occurred between 1901 and 1904. In 2016, there were many demonstrations by Citizens of Poland, a civic movement engaged in pro-democracy and anti-fascist actions, opposed to the political changes brought about by the government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party. Milach's book of collages mixes illustrations of the children's strike with characters that lived in Września during the communist era in the 1950s and 1960s taken by local amateur photographer Ryszard Szczepaniak. This "delineates a fictitious narrative that can be read as a metaphor, commenting on the social and political tensions of the present day."
Milach is an associate member of Magnum Photos
. He is married to Ania Nałęcka-Milach and is currently based in Warsaw.
Rafał Milach was born in 1978 in Gliwice and is currently based in Warsaw. He graduated in graphic design from the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, as well as studies at the Institute of Creative Photography of the Silesian University in Opava, Czech Republic, where he’s offering lectures. He’s also a professor at the Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School in Katowice Poland.
In 2008, he received first prize in the Grand Press Photo competition and in 2011 he received an honorable mention in the Magnum Expression Award Competition. In 2008 he received first prize in the Grand Press Photo competition and in 2011 he received an honorable mention in the Magnum Expression Award Competition. In 2013 he was among the 10 laureates of Magnum’s 2013 Emergency Fund grants, which allowed him to continue his Winners
project, set in Belarus and giving viewers an intimate look at the "last dictatorship in Europe."
At the 2012 edition of the Month of Photography in Bratislava Milach’s 7 Rooms
were announced the best contemporary books in the CEE Region this year, along with two other albums published by Sputnik Photos
– Stand By
and Distant Place
About his style of photography, he says the key to his craft is filtering his subject through his own consciousness to find a novel, distinctive perspective on an object or issue, even if it has been portrayed by dozens of photographers. "It’s about finding something interesting for us"
, he told, "something we want to speak about. I believe there are no bad subjects, there are only bad productions."