Agnieszka Rayss: “American Dream”

Agnieszka Rayss: “American Dream”
13.10.2011 – 20.11.2011, Galeria Wysokich Napięć, SWPS Warsaw, Chodakowska 19/31

A project implemented in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Hungary with the support of the Visegrad Fund.

From Hungary to Ukraine, everywhere Agnieszka Rayss took her pictures, as she observes: “In the majority these were nice girls who wanted to look good. I also came across teenager girls that were difficult to bear, but these were few and far between”.
These were, thus, ordinary girls in an ordinarily commercialised society. Fragmented, separated into parts – especially the luscious parts of the body – some half-naked and if clothed, craving recognition or success in cheap limelight, in funny lobbies and tiny flats... “Education is the most important thing,” they repeated to the photographer, but both herself and her lens saw that standing on the catwalk was OF PRIME IMPORTANCE to them. Being since early childhood under the pressure of fashion, commercials and glossy magazine covers, they are less distanced to this tantalising world than the generation of girls coming of age at a time of nascent capitalism in the entire Eastern Bloc. Back then what was mostly at stake was earning an extra buck and having a few nice pictures of oneself taken, by the way so to speak. The thing was to test oneself in a role different from the one you were getting ready for. (I know what I write about as I am a member of this generation.)
Agnieszka Rayss’s photographs depict young and very young girls that first of all CRAVE approval for their looks. They do not exercise for any other role. They have ready answers for public use, like the one about the paramount importance of education. In private, however, they can confide in the photographer: “The qualifications and all those opinions you need to listen to are terrible”. Still, they bear them to make it.

Rayss likes her models and does not do any harm to them with her lens. Staying on the sidelines, she observes loyally: “My world does not differ from theirs that much. I take part in millions of competitions myself”. Yet she adds: “Sometimes I wonder why?”.
Her protagonists do not ask.
A few years ago a US sociologist Benjamin Barber wrote about the infantilist ethos which determines the conduct of our radically consumerist society as powerfully as the “Protestant ethics” (approval for multiplying wealth through hard work and frugality) impacted the culture of a capitalist society at its early production stage. Rayss intended to document a mass phenomenon of dreaming the American dream of beauty, fame and money at a time of fledgling capitalism, in contrast to the drab reality of socialism. She succeeded in achieving something else. First of all, she showed how this American dream totally globalises girls in the former Eastern Bloc and how national differences become invisible in the course of efforts taken to realise this dream. Second of all, through her attractive form and theme she showed a phenomenon of social attitudes of young generations, one that is unsettlingly akin to that of the Western European model. To look – this is the challenge. What comes next? To have in order to look; this is rather self-evident.
Agnieszka Rayss demonstrates the ease of spread of the extremely infantile social stand in our entire post-socialist space. According to many commentators, this very stand lay at the heart of this year’s August riots in London.

Monika Piotrowska
exhibition curator

Agnieszka Rayss is a freelance photojournalist based in Warsaw, Poland. She received her Master Degree in the History of Art from the Jagiellonian University (Cracow, Poland). Participant in courses at the Polish Federation of Photographers and the Laboratory of Journalism (University of Warsaw). In 2004 selected for Leadership Training for emerging photojournalist from Eastern Europe organized by Altemus Foundation with collaboration of VII Photo Agency in France. Recipient of the Visegrad Fund scholarship in 2007, Noorderlicht Festival 2008 and 2009 participant. Finalist of Hasselblad Masters Award in 2009 and 2010. In 2010 she got a Visegrad Fund grant to finish her “American Dream” project – on women and pop culture in post-communist countries. Awarded in POYI 68 contest. She got several awards in national press photo contests (Newsreportaz, Grand Press Photo). She publishes in leading Polish magazines (Polityka, Rzeczpospolita, Przekrój).

Co-founder of Sputnik Photos International Association of Photojournalists ( HYPERLINK "",) collective of photojournalists from post-communists countries.

Her interests include post-communist societies in their attempt to follow Western patterns, pop culture aspects of transformation, female and gender issues and sports. In 2010 she published a photo-book on women and pop-culture in Central and Eastern European countries (American Dream).

Her works are distributed by Anzenberger Agency in Vienna.

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