Tomasz Kizny’s album Gulag includes photographs from between the 1920s and the 1950s showing the work and daily life of labour camp prisoners, as well as contemporary images of camps and portraits of former prisoners.
Irkutsk and Kazakhstan are the two places where my family was exiled during the war. I do not treat this as a mission, but I grew up in a family that did not have any illusions about communism, as it knew its true face. As a result of this upbringing, during the martial law period I was in the so-called Solidarity underground, and when I got a passport in my hand for the first time in 1990, unlike my friends, I travelled East instead of West. I was going backwards – from the experience of communism that I had to its roots.
– said Tomasz Kizny.
As he pointed out, the album is an attempt to recall the image of the Gulag Archipelago through historical photographs in particular, which he sought for many years in private and public archives in Russia.
The photos are from the period after 1923 – this is the Solovki prison camp, which is considered one of the first labour camps and which existed as late as 1955, or the period after Stalin’s death, when prisoners were released. One chapter is devoted to Vorkutlag, to the Polish prisoners of the Gulag, mostly Home Army soldiers, who in 1955-56 had the opportunity to return to Poland and photographed Vorkuta’s landscape before leaving.
– said the author.
The publication presents important Soviet forced labour camps, such as the former monastery on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, gold, coal and uranium mines in Kolyma or the Salekhard–Igarka Railway (the so-called Dead Road). The photographs document the work and daily life of prisoners: we see inmates within the camp, in their bunks, on the way to work and the facilities built by them.
The second part of the album includes photographs taken by the author between the 1990s and 2003 in Russia showing the contemporary appearance of the camps.
I had the following method of work: when I had collected large archival material about a given complex, I went there with a camera and photographed the post-Soviet landscape of this post-camp civilisation, so either preserved remains of the camp or structures erected by the prisoners. It is not made on a ‘yesterday and today’ basis; it is rather an attempt to create a relatively comprehensive overview of one of the most tragic pages of twentieth-century history, and the Soviet Union in particular.
– said Kizny.
The album consists of seven chapters. As the author pointed out, six are devoted to places which are significant for the history and development of forced labour camps in the Soviet Union, and the seventh introduces the phenomenon of camp theatres. Archival photographs are accompanied by contemporary photos of prisoners and members of their families, which Tomasz Kizny took while interviewing them.
I added a foreword to each chapter and included detailed historical information about the presented sites>
– said Kizny.
The album also has a foreword by the British historian Norman Davies, human rights defenders, the former Soviet dissident Sergey Kovalev and the French historian and expert on the history of the Soviet Union, Nicolas Werth.
The album first came out in 2003 in Paris, then it was translated into six or seven languages, but never into Polish. This is its first Polish edition, which I am very happy with, published jointly by the IPN and the Picture Doc Foundation.
– said the author.
The word Gulag became widely used as a result of the book The GULag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It is formed from the first letters of the name of the institution managing the network of forced labour camps in the Soviet Union – the Chief Directorate of Camps [RUS. Glavnoye upravleniye lagerey].
Source: PAP, author: TS, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015Culture.pl