In her series Lethe, the Polish-born photographer Sylwia Kowalczyk presents a collection of fragmented collages depicting how the loss of memories brings its own grief. According to Greek mythology, ‘Lethe’ refers to the river that rids memories of the dead as they drink from it or bathe in it. Through her collages, Kowalczyk shows how the past can become an immense black hole as our most significant memories from childhood are forgotten and forever erased; if we cannot remember these important times in our lives, did they really happen? The images provoke such questions as each one presents contrasting views, often highlighted by an apparent gap to fill. Many of the portraits feature a landscape, perhaps highlighting a specific memory that holds significance to the individual. Yet, the prevalent theme, is the emptiness that projects throughout the series, shown through the overlapping of fragments which create an opening into another feeling or memory.
Lethe showcases how our present self is a collection of distorted and often overlapping memories, some of which we try to re-create and forever hold a special place, whereas others fill us with grief and despair, and are even erased altogether as we grow older.