Capturing a Country's History in a Single Picture
small, Capturing a Country's
History in a Single Picture, A photograph by Chris Niedenthal taken for the American edition of 'Newsweek', courtesy of Centrum JP2 / www.centrumjp2.pl, chris_niedenthal_historia_jednej_fotografii_swiecicki.jpg
Chris Niedenthal speaks about the making of this striking photograph from 1981.
Chris Niedenthal, a photographer widely appreciated in Poland and Europe, tells the story behind a photograph taken at the beginning of the 1980s, which he has recently discovered in his archives. The artist documented a 1981 student strike at the University of Łódź. In a video from the History of One Photograph series, he explains his reasons for pressing the shutter and talks about his work during the onset of Solidarity.
1989: A Year of Hope by Chris Niedenthal – Image Gallery
My best years were those when Solidarność was being born. The history of this photo is that… I don’t know it – I’ve found it this year, it was taken in February ’81. […] it’s from the strikes by students of Łódź University […] it was a sit-in strike, so the students lived there, ate there.
Niedenthal adds that the moment he found out about the strike, he decided to visit the students and document anything he was able to.
I took this photo by a cloakroom; the student has a card stating that he’s a student on strike, but he was looking after the cloakroom, and he had food at his disposal, and there were these hooks and tickets for coats in this cloakroom – there were sausages hanging on these hooks. I think that photographs gain value even after decades, and this is exactly one of these photographs. This boy stands confused, he’s not a model, he’s a striking student; he stands there in that cloakroom, posing, looking directly at the camera, and around him there are these scruffy hooks, the whole setting is scruffy – and on the hooks, those fine sausages hang, brought to the gates of the University of Łódź by parents and other people.
The photographer also explains his reasons for taking this particular shot:
I didn’t want there to be a demonstration, a beating by ZOMO; it wasn’t about the soldiers of martial law, but more of a human perspective on what was happening in the '80s.
The story of Chris Niedenthal’s photograph is the third episode of the History of One Photograph series, which features famous photographers sharing the memories, experiences and emotions that accompany the moment when the photographs were taken. These are photographs which didn't necessarily change the course of history, but certainly influenced its perception.
Recent films feature Jakub Szymczuk speaking about the history of the Czarny Czwartek / Black Thursday photograph taken in Ukraine (the image was honoured with a Grand Press Photo award), as well as Czarek Sokołowski – the only Pole to ever win a Pulitzer prize in the News Photography category. Jerzy Kośnik is to take part in the fourth episode of the series.
Chris Niedenthal. Selected Photographs 1973-1989 – Image Gallery
All of the aforementioned artists have one subject in common: Solidarity. History of One Photograph is produced in the framework of the Skarb Solidarności / Treasure of Solidarity project, which is being carried out from March 2014 to May 2015 by the Centre for Thought of John Paul II in cooperation with Foksal Eleven. Episodes premiere on Thursdays at 8pm CET on the Facebook profile of the project’s coordinator.
history of polish photography
Edited by AW; translated by Agata Dudek, 9 Mar 2015