Cpt. Czeslaw Szarek, 62, with the help of his faithful sailor, Zbigniew Laskowski, 51, and the rest of his crew, transports the largest barges on the Odra River in Poland. He guides the newly built barges from the shipyards of Wroclaw and Malczyce to the port of Szczecin (Stettin), close to the river's estuary. From there the barges are transported into the Baltic Sea where they are delivered to Dutch, German and French investors. The journey from the shipyards of south-western Poland to Stettin takes about one week and demands extensive knowledge of and experience on the river Odra because the waterway is difficult to navigate.
River infrastructure on the Odra began to decline in the 1970s when government officials moved coal transportation to roads and railways. Since then, money for initiatives to improve river infrastructure, like deepening the waterbed, has been scarce. Today river transportation is in its deepest crisis since the river became a part of Poland in 1945.
For Cpt. Szarek, guiding 479-foot-long ships through the narrow and winding Odra is a thrilling adventure. He has worked on the river since 1968 and he spends the majority of each year on the river. He intends to work as a captain as long as he is able. Sailor Zbigniew Laskowski says that he will work on Odra until the end of the world and one day longer. As the crisis in river transportation deepens, Cpt. Szarek and Laskowski emerge as the Last Kings of Odra.
As a boy I dreamed of life on the river and this story is an attempt to understand the reality of such a life. I have been photographing Cpt. Szarek and his crew since 2009 but the project continues. This photo essay is a tribute to Cpt. Szarek and his crew.