Sackcloth and Ashes is the result of a lifetime of work by Polish photographer Witold Krassowski. Although he has photographed major historic and political events which have helped shape societies across the world, he has always been drawn to photographing ordinary lives – his best-known images are the ones he took during the transformation of his native Poland following the end of communism in 1989. The disparate locations and subjects of Krassowski’s work are unified by his choice to focus on the lives of common citizens rather than the elite or political entities.

This new book includes nearly 120 photographs, the earliest from the 1980s and many previously unpublished, depicting everyday lives from a diverse range of countries including Bulgaria, Tanzania, Peru, Russia, Afghanistan, Italy and Mongolia. His black and white photographs, all shot on film, show the universal markers of all our lives – the births, marriages and deaths; the grafters – lumberjacks, miners, tailors and chimney sweeps; the grit – the homeless, sick and imprisoned; and the joy – the festivals, the discos and catching of snowflakes on the tongue.

‘The projects, from which these images originate are covered in dust in few reference libraries. They are dead, and should remain so, as their interest hardly survives the circumstances that originated them. In this book however, I hope to keep alive a little longer what unites them: my personal approach, a sense of deep unity beyond cultures. It is important to me that the impact of these political events can be understood from the point of view of the ordinary people in their ordinary lives. For many of my subjects, their stories would be long forgotten.’- Witold Krassowski