I spent my childhood and early youth in Gdynia/Poland on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Perhaps it was the sight of the open sea and the horizon that inspired my love of travel.
In 1986, I joined Thomson – a French multinational electronics company. The company offered me a job in Singapore, so I found myself with my whole family in the heart of Asia. This city-state, inhabited mostly by Chinese, Malaysians and Indians migrants, is a colourful melting pot of different languages and cultures. On a small piece of land, followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity live side by side in harmony. No one is surprised by the proximity of mosques, temples and churches or the multitude of religious feasts.
During this time, I discovered the work of an American photographer and traveller, Steve McCurry, who had done a lot of photography in Asia. Years later, in 2008, I was fortunate enough to meet McCurry in Singapore. He attended the opening of his exhibition entitled The Unguarded Moment. He spoke about his work from a photographic perspective, but also mentioned the circumstances in which his most famous photographs were taken. The meeting with McCurry became the beginning of the next stage in my life journey and the realization of my hidden dreams about photography.
In 2002, I found myself in a very difficult personal situation, which was a real turning point in my life. In order to deal with it mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I sought help from meditation. Luckily, I met a Benedictine monk, Laurence Freeman, who came to Singapore to lead a meditation retreat for The World Community for Christian Meditation. Meeting Fr. Freeman and the community was a decisive milestone in my religious and spiritual development.
The practice of meditation and the fact that I had more free time, allowed me to visit different temples and to gain insights on the basics of faith and spirituality of the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoist and Sikhs. I met wonderful people and made new friends as they invited me to join them on their yatras – pilgrimages to their holy places in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In a gesture of gratitude, I photographed these expeditions. My spiritual transformation and journeying with the camera began to merge. There was a growing interest in people who professed other faiths and the desire to capture this fascination in photos was born. I also began to notice that we all talk about the same things but in different languages.
I, as an ardent Catholic from Poland, started to see that spiritual diversity creates a wonderful kaleidoscope of religious similarities and differences across the world. The more this stained glass window appeared in front of me, the richer and more beautiful it turned out to be. I was discovering concepts and phrases from other spiritual languages and learned to use them in the context of my own faith as the scriptures of the other traditions shed a new light on the underlying truth in the Bible. All in all a great mosaic of Asian spirituality was revealed.
In 2012, during one of my photographic trips, I arrived in a Christian ashram at Aanmodaya near Kanchipuram/South India. I was warmly welcomed by Father Joseph Samarakone OMI (1941–2017). He was a hermit and a theologian, and in his works constantly drew on the spiritual wisdom of the East. In the ashram temple, on the left side of the main altar, I found a collection of scriptures from various religions. Along with the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Great Book of Tao and the Dhammapada, there was a book Universal Wisdom. A Journey Through the Sacred Wisdom of the World, written by an English Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths (1906–1993). For nearly forty years in the second half of his life, he had lived in Christian ashrams in India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, studying the philosophical and spiritual traditions of the world’s greatest religions. This book, written towards the end of his life, intrigued me. For the most part, it consists of extensive extracts from the wisdom books of the seven great religious traditions. However in the introduction to his book, Bede Griffiths included his own spiritual testament. This was the conviction that if we manage to reach what is at its core in every religion, then external differences will cease to divide us and we will meet in a place of unity to all of us – our common ground. I am honoured to be able to include this passage as an introduction to this album.
I had been learning about photography by studying photos by many different famous photographic journalists. At the same time, I began to understand what I wanted to capture and what to look for during the subsequent trips. Steve McCurry inspired me and showed me Asia through the lens of his camera. Another great photographer, Tomek Sikora, helped me by reviewing my photographs and giving me invaluable tips when I dared to show them to him. Over the years he encouraged me to keep on taking more and better photographs. In this way for the next few years, led by the spiritual testament of an English monk: “… to realize the deep unity which underlies all our human differences” and with the guidance from the Polish photographer, I travelled through the countries of Southeast Asia, India, Nepal and Tibet, trying to capture in photography the universal dimension of the human spirituality, regardless of religious affiliation. I owe great gratitude to both of these mentors.
I am often asked how I would describe my photography. I think the key word here is “intimacy” at both a spiritual and human level. Let me refer then to these photos as The Inward Moment following in the footsteps of the great masters of photography who used the word ‘moment’ to describe their photos. The first was Henri Cartier-Bresson, who in 1952 entitled his iconic monograph The Decisive Moment. Steve McCurry uses in his publications the term The Unguarded Moment, and Geoff Dyer has titled his book, describing pictures of famous photojournalists, The Ongoing Moment.
While taking photographs, I try to capture the moment of spiritual vulnerability at the same time. That inward moment when a person – alone or in a group – tries to enter into a relationship with the Sacred, differently named in each religion. I hope to convey through my photos the validity of the different spiritual paths, where we all have equal rights. We all come from the one source and we all strive for the same experience of the Sacred.
I am very grateful to all the nameless heroes of my photos for the testimony of their great faith that one day, we will reach “THERE” together.
Photograph by Tomek Sikora