Rebel by choice
The story begins with Jerzy Kośnik. Kośnik is a Polish photographer specialising in portraits and backstage photography on photo sets. Under the communist regime, he was one of the few artists who allowed to go abroad, thanks to his co-operation with the periodical Film. His stay in Cannes was part of one of these professional trips. However, the 1981 journey was different from his usual ones. As the artist recollected:
When I was to leave Poland in May 1981 and go to Cannes, it was the the first time I was feeling remorseful about going abroad. A lot of things were happening in Poland. The Carnival of Solidarność [editor’s note: the period between August 1980 and December 1981, marked by relative civic freedom, less limitations of freedom of speech, and less severe censorship from the ruling communist regime] had been going on for several months at that point. To feel better, I grabbed some Solidarność pins and took them with me.
Kośnik wasn’t thinking of a huge campaign, shattering the world or evoking a scandal. It was out of sentiment that he decided to hide a few pins in his pockets – symbols of the organisation he supported and believed in. It wouldn't be long though before Kośnik’s political engagement would result in him losing his position as a correspondent for the magazine, and provoke several rather unpleasant meetings with representatives from the ruling regime. It was all because Kośnik – with help from some of the biggest contemporary stars – had made the world turn its eyes towards the problems of a remote country in Central Europe.
Enter Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson was the first to wear the pin on the lapel of his jacket. Kośnik wanted to take some photographs at a press conference Nicholson was taking part in. One of the journalists present asked an utterly absurd question: ‘Did you enjoy acting in that erotic scene with Jessica Lange more than with other actresses, or was it the other way round?’. As Kośnik recollects:
It was so idiotic that I got up my courage and decided to ask if Nicholson liked Solidarność. The actor asked me to repeat the question, and then sonorously answered: 'Yes, I do.'
After the conference Kośnik approached Nicholson, told him a few words about the political situation in Poland and gave him the pin. Nicholson immediately stuck it in the lapel of his white jacket and wore it till the end of the festival. Having returned to Poland, Kośnik showed the material to the editors of Film.
Proud of myself, I showed the photograph to the editor-in-chief, but he became furious and told me the picture wasn’t fit for print.
Several days later, Zygmunt Kałużyński from Polityka magazine contacted Kośnik. The photograph was soon published on its cover, and the photographer was fired from his job in Film.
However, these problems didn’t dampen Kośnik’s enthusiasm. Several months later, General Jaruzelski announced the introduction of martial law in Poland. Tanks stood in the street and people started to fear what tomorrow might bring. This dangerous period lasted for several years. In 1989, when civic protests in Poland escalated sharply, Kośnik decided to draw the world’s attention to the situation in his homeland once again. As he said in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza:
I returned to the idea in May 1989, before the elections in Poland. I was at the Cannes festival privately at the time. I’d asked five actresses to participate in a photoshoot. Four of them agreed – Grace Jones, Nastassja Kinski, Jane Fonda and Carole Bouquet.
Not all of the stars knew what Solidarność was or what the lives of Poles looked like:
When I went on explaining what Solidarność was, Grace Jones said she didn’t know what I was talking about, but since I was very convincing she would agree to have a picture with the pin taken.
The artist stuck the pin to the fabric of her bra and struck a pose. It was hard not to notice Solidarność against such a background.
Jane Fonda, on the contrary, was highly knowledgable about the political situation in Europe. Not only did she wear the Solidarność pin for the photograph, but also showed the V-sign, one of the symbols of Polish opposition against the communist regime. The members and representatives of Solidarność used it to greet each other, people painted it on walls, and printed in so-called underground texts published by the drugi obieg (the 'second circulation' or underground press) due to censorship.
Nastassja Kinski posed unpretentiously. She stuck the pin in her blouse as if it was a brooch, making the symbol of Solidarność look like jewellery against her shirt. The actress herself was interested in the political situation in Poland and the struggle of Eastern and Central European nations against the Soviet Union.
The last of the five actresses invited by Kośnik was Carole Bouquet. Similarly to Kinski, she decided to pose in a more serious manner than Grace Jones did. Only Sophie Marceau rejected the request of the Polish photographer. Kośnik was surprised by this, since at the time the French actress had been in a relationship with the Polish director Andrzej Żuławski for several years. Nevertheless, the photographer respected her choice and later jokingly recollected that:
She later said she hadn’t understood what my point was. Allegedly she thought I was trying to get her to do some sort of commercial.
Magazines and photo agencies all over the world ended up buying the Polish photographer’s works. Hollywood stars wearing the Solidarność pin began appearing on all sorts of covers and spreads from the world’s most famous periodicals.
On 4th June 1989, the first free elections post-WWII finally took place in Poland. The winner was Solidarność.
Sources: Culture.pl, jerzykosnik.netgallery.eu, Gazeta Wyborcza, own materials; originally written in Polish by DS, April 2017, translated by NS, April 2017.