Dorys is Poland's most famous celebrity portraitist. Thanks to the National Digital Library Polona, his works are now in the public domain and available online for all to see.
His photographs can be compared to the realist pictures of German portrait and documentary photographer August Sander, who was famed for showing a cross-section of society, and studio portraits of stars by Yousuf Karsh. Jerzy Benedykt Dorys (Rotenberg) came to Warsaw in the 1920s in pursuit of his beloved Halina Pregierówna. He was still aiming at a career in music, having learnt to play the violin for 9 years with Alfred Wiłkomirski. In the new city he worked in a silent film orchestra, but an unexpected hand injury changed his future.
Long before coming to Warsaw, he built his first camera – a camera obscura. His hobby turned into his main source of income. In 1926 he joined the Photography Lovers Association and opened his first studio two years later. The same year, despite the disapproval of the bride's family, he married Halina Pregierówna. Halina Dorys' nephew, Ludwik Dobrzyński, sheds light on the hassle,
My grandparents thought the young Benedykt Rotenberg was quite a rascal, unworthy of their daughter's hand. My mother claimed my grandfather pushed this bachelor down the stairs.
Before he became an accomplished portrait photographer, Dorys shot street photos in Warsaw. In 1932-33 he shot a series of photos in Kazimierz on the Vistula. Unlike the more common posed studio photographs of the era, he preferred unposed photography. He comments,
I entered Kazimierz with my Leica from the back door and I saw it as no one before me had seen it.
But Dorys is most remembered for his portraits of the Warsaw elite: film and music stars. He shot thousands of them. Culture.pl presents a selection.
Dorys and the Misses
In the inter-war period, Miss Poland was selected from portrait photos. Two Miss Polands were chosen thanks to Dorys' camera. The first in 1929 – Władysława Kostakówna, and the second – Zofia Batycka – a year later. After word got around that Dorys had taken their pictures, he had so many clients that even the Marshal of Poland and Commander-in-Chief of Poland's armed forces, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, had to leave disappointed when he came without an appointment.
Stars of Warsaw stages
He captured the face of Eugeniusz Bodo, one of the most popular inter-war actors at the height of his popularity in 1931. The comedic actor also did some dramatic films. In 1938, he played a dark character in Za winy niepopełnione (For Uncommitted Faults).
Just like today, the tabloids of the time used to run pieces about the private lives of celebrities. And Bodo's was juicy. He once dated the film star Nora Ney (not to be confused with the Brazilian singer).
Actor and director Stefan Jaracz came to Dorys in the early 30s. At the time, he was performing a piece at the Teatr Polski and working on his own theatre – Teatr Ateneum. The venue became one of the most trendy spots in the city.
Dorys ran his studio, located on Aleje Jerozolimskie, until 1939. He was then forced to sell it. A year later, along with thousands of other people, he was sent to the ghetto. There, he continued his photography business. He also had Germans coming to his small studio. They would often ask him to develop negatives: many were shots of the ghetto. Dorys made copies and passed them on to underground organisations.
When the Ghetto was made smaller in autumn 1941, the photographer was moved to a studio on 16 Chłodna street. The atelier once belonged to Henryk Buchcar. A year later, Dorys escaped the Ghetto, and he spent the remaining years of the war in hiding under the name Roszczyk.
In 1947, together with Jan Bułhak, Marian Dederka, Janina Mierzecka and Janusz Podoski, he set up the Polish Artist Photographers Union (Związek Polskich Artystów Fotografów). He is also credited with co-creating the Warsaw Photographic Society and the Polish Society of Authors and Composers (ZAiKS).
The composers series
In 1947, he caught Andrzej Panufnik on camera. At the time, the famous composer was Director of the National Philharmonic. A year later, Dorys moved to 29 Nowy Świat street, where he had a joint apartment-photographic studio. This is where the portrait of Witold Lutosławski was taken.
Tomasz Nowicki, the subject of this photograph, is shrouded in mystery. Apart from his name, inscribed on the back of the photo, little else is known. He visited the Nowy Swiat photographic studio a couple of times in the 60s. There are many portraits of him. In some he is alone, in others with his mother. And there is one picture of him as a teenager. Search for them on Polona and browse through thousands of pictures from the past.
Author: Michał Dąbrowski, translator MJ
Sources: polona.pl, culture.pl, fzp.net.pl