We are all born mad. Some remain so.
–Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
When I stepped into his mother’s row home in Northeast Philadelphia he was pacing slowly back and forth from the television to the kitchen. I stood, watching for a moment. He was wearing the same red shirt as the day before: only today he seemed more exhausted, rarely present. The television performs its rhythmic duty: distracting him from his own confusion. When he does notice me, his expression changes. He comes alive and seems relieved for the company, a break from his solitary routine.
And, then it begins, again the calculator comes out, the frantic calculations take over, “If you take 2.75 and divide it by 6, you will end up with a C average, right? He says.” I answer back and try my best to understand but all I can come up with is “ Yes, it is a C average.” My answer never seems to satisfy his need for the “correct response.”
As if he were a character from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: Slawek waits. He waits for companionship, acknowledgement and many things I cannot begin to assume. Time spent with him often feels as though you are participating in an absurd drama. According to Sigmund Freud, “there is a feeling of freedom we can enjoy when we are able to abandon the straitjacket of logic.” These glimpses of his freedom from logic allow me a unique perspective on a truly passionate and authentic life.
“The Mathematician” is an unscripted look into the life of my thirty-four year old cousin, Slawek Kosmala. Slawek, a Polish émigré, is developmentally delayed and has lived with for over sixteen years. His misperception of time however, causes him to believe that he has been ill for only a year. Slawek is not in denial of his illness; instead it is his inability to reflect upon himself objectively that has created a barrier between fact and fiction.
The development and progression of this work has evolved out of our collaboration. The trajectory of this project is governed by the recent evolution in my life-long relationship with my cousin. Early on, he made a decision to take an active role in it. I feel his desire for participation is due to his unyielding need to be heard.
The use of photography in this project sets out to explore how relationships can be challenged and strengthened through the everyday dealings with sickness. Instead of being singularly explanative, the photographs provide glimpses and fragments; which add up to a collective narrative. One of the main focal points of the project is to provide a portrait of Slawek and his relationship to his closely-knit family. Children are an important part of this series. The children act as his playmates and closest confidants. They go on incredible journeys together sometimes real and oftentimes imagined. The photographs reveal multiple realities through the visual fragmentation of Slawek’s body and environment.