Karolina Jonderko - Self-portrait with my Mother

Karolina Jonderko – Self-portrait with my Mother

Karolina Jonderko (b. 1985) is a student of photography at the Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz, Poland. She has taken photos since she was 18 and most of her works are based on experience and childhood memories. Karolina has been chosen for the prestigious mentor program of Napo Images

“I remember the joy of discovering Haribo jellies, Nutella and margarine among colorful clothes packed in heavy cardboard boxes we used to get from relatives who lived in West Germany, when Poland was lacking many basic things. It was a celebration, the whole family was present for these grand openings of gift boxes.

The clothes, mostly second-hand, were good enough for mother. She never felt the need to buy new ones, preferring to save money for more important expenses. She always looked modest and didn’t like black. Some say that what one wears is a part of creating one’s identity. My mother, all her life, wore clothes that she had never chosen.

On February 28, 2012, four years after her death, I started reliving the past. My work since then has been about building on my memories and longing. Self-Portrait With My Mother is an attempt to summarize that period, to move beyond the past -a final reconciliation with reality.

My grandmother’s house –where my mother, my sister and me all grew up– is empty and cold now, almost in ruins. This is where I’ve kept my mother’s clothes since she died. And now after my grandmother passed away, it’s where I’ve been making these self-portraits, recreating dresses and outfits from memory, like my mother used to match them. I recently tried on a different set of clothes that came in one of those big boxes many years ago. I found her blond hair on the green coat.”


“Home” clothes. I remember her sitting at the piano, focused, her hand tapping the rhythm, patiently listening to the rattle of her students, and I can still hear her gentle voice: let’s repeat this fragment. How was she able to listen to that; I do not know till this day. My sister and I would leave the house after few minutes.


„For the journey” clothes. The departure day. Crowd on the platform. I am clasping my mum’s and sister’s hands. Suddenly I am rising. It’s my mum passing me to my dad through the compartment’s window. I am follwed by two suitcases. My mum and sister somhow join us. It’s crowded and stuffy and like that for the next 14 hours. However, 2 weeks of seaside holidays are a worthwhile prize. Mum has prepared sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and tea in a ‘Wyborowa’ vodka bottle, we have ‘Happy Minutes’ ( a children’s puzzle magazine in communist Poland). She loves the sea. She travels lost in her thoughts, I think she can already smell the sea and hear the waves and screeching seagulls. Her blue dress may be made from cheap material, but it doesn’t crease and dries in 2 minutes – perfect for such journeys.



„Holiday“ clothes. It’s summer, apart from the intensively bright sun, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and mum’s voice wakes us up. I have a quick peek through the curtains, a line of washing must have been hung outside early in the morning, it looks completely dry. I cannot see anyone, but I know she’s there. I crane my neck and I am just able to make out blonde locks and cigarette smoke. The morning ‘gossip’ with the neighbours is in full swing. Bare-footed and in pjs my sister and I jump out on the balcony and join the discussion. We love summer. We have our mum to ourselves for a whole 2 months of holidays.



“Wedding” clothes. I am 7 years old, the early nineties, cousin’s wedding, 150 guests; I don’t know most of them. I am stuffing my mouth with a cake while watching my parents danc- ing to a bad version of Krawczyk’s song. My mother loved to dance and she was good at it. They looked great together, understanding without words. She did not like this type of feasts. Chatting with relatives, whom you see only at weddings and funerals. What to talk to them about? It’s much better to dance and send smiles.


„Kindergarten” clothes. At the coalmine’s kindergarten she would prepare the little ones for many performances. She would teach them songs about beloved mothers, the blackened faces of miners or brave marching Polish soldiers. She knew a song for every occasion. She wore blouses with big geometric patterns for the children. They loved her, the happy plump lady, who with rosy cheeks accompanied their singing on the piano in front of their proud parents.


“Winter” clothes. She would leave for work in darkness; we would all be still asleep. She would take a red bus to her work at the music school. We didn’t have a car. Waiting for the bus, bitter cold, the uncertainty whether it would come, shifting from foot to foot. On the way back she would do shopping. She would move slowly with heavy bags, being careful not to slip. Frizzing cold, with a red nose and cheeks she would enter the house. Every night her soaked black boots would stand in a puddle of melted snow under a radiator in the kitchen.

More images from the project and other series on cargocollective.com/karolinajonderko and karolinajonderko.tumblr.com