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, barely present. The television performed its rhythmic duty: distracting him from his own confusion. When he finally took notice me, his expression changed. He came alive and seemed relieved for the company, a break from his solitary routine.
Then it began, the calculator came out and the frantic calculations took over, “If you take 2.75 and divide it by 6, you will end up with a C average, right?” he said. I tried my best to understand but all I can come up with is, “Yes, it is a C average.” My answers never seem 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 understand. 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 Slawek’s freedom from logic give 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 immigrant, is developmentally delayed and has lived with schizophrenia for the past 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 my project. I feel his desire for participation is due to his unyielding need to be heard.
The use of photography in this project explores how relationships can be challenged and strengthened through everyday dealings with this sickness. Instead of being singularly explanative, the photographs provide glimpses and fragments, which add up to a collective narrative. One of the focal points of the project is to provide a portrait of Slawek and his relationship to his closely knit family. Children play an important role in Slawek’s life and thus in this series. Children are his playmates and closest confidants. They go on incredible journeys together, sometimes real and other times imagined.
The photographs in this series reveal multiple realities through the visual fragmentation of Slawek’s body and environment.
We are all born mad. Some remain so. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot