In today’s hectic society, it is rare to take a moment to reflect on thoughts and emotions. As a practitioner of mindfulness and meditation, Edinburgh-based photographer Wojtek Kutyla aims to give his reader time to do this in his new book Sentience. Frustrated with the need to keep moving forward, Kutyla would rather take time to appreciate small details, using the book as a loose description of multiple states of mind. He says of Sentience that it “illustrates my own process of dealing with basic biological and culturally-constructed conditions: joy, pain, love, desire, loss and fear.” The book contains photographs, short pieces of poetry and an accompanying soundtrack that can be found online, all made by the artist.
The book spans a range of motion, seeming to document a love that has been lost. Grainy, black and white images act as the main body of the book and feature subjects such as tree branches, cracked wallpaper and bleak landscapes. Kutyla explains that he took the photos intuitively, reflecting passing moments and attempting to preserve them. Lines of poetry add emotional depth to the images, forming a sort of diary, e.g. “Fingers missing traces of air, desperately / Seeking the warmth of mittens.” One would be forgiven for missing the soundtrack, as it can only be found on Kutyla’s website and, once listened to, adds a haunting element to the already forlorn content. It forces the reader to immerse themselves in the emotions of the book, recalling their own memories of similarly melancholic situations. Emptiness is emphasised is the space portrayed in the images, and, when combined with the echoing music, leads to the reader to feeling rather lonesome, if only for 15 minutes.
Kutyla stresses the importance of silence in his approach to creating Sentience, though our experience as readers is somewhat different: the harsh music makes this almost impossible. Without the soundtrack, it is much easier to appreciate quietness, following the pacing lines and letting one’s eye wander over the page. The reader is no longer encompassed in an environment created by the artist, but the loss of this ghostly aspect makes it a much calmer read. The content is clearly emotional, Kutyla is led by impulse rather than logic and this approach means that the poems are more enlightening and gripping than the photography itself. They are charged with feeling and the shadowy images lack this focus, although they do complement each other well. The rawness and honesty touch a nerve that many people can relate to and leaves an affecting impression and a reminder not to neglect reflection, even if it can be painful.