Chris Niedenthal is one of Europe's most respected photojournalists. He was born in London on 21st October, 1950. He now lives and works in Poland.
Chris Niedenthal was born into a family of Polish immigrants. The first time he visited his parents' homeland was in 1963. Ten years later, he returned for what was planned to be just a short visit, but he ended up settling in Poland permanently. In 1998, he received Polish citizenship.
Niedenthal has collaborated with such magazines as Newsweek, Time, Der Spiegel, Geo and Forbes. In 1986, he received the World Press Photo award for his portrait of the Secretary-General of the Hungarian Communist Party, János Kádár, which went on the cover of Time magazine.
As he recalls, he got his first camera – a Kodak Starmite – at the age of eleven. Niedenthal completed a three-year course in photography at the London College of Printing. Upon arriving in Poland he worked as a photojournalist, initially as a freelancer. After a few years, in 1978, he became a correspondent for the Polish edition of Newsweek. His debut photographic material showed "illegal" makeshift churches built in the People's Republic of Poland despite their prohibition by the authorities.
In 1978, shortly after the papal election of Karol Wojtyła, Chris Niedenthal was the first photojournalist to report from the Pope's hometown of Wadowice. The following year, during John Paul II's pilgrimage to his homeland, Niedenthal took a photo which featured on the cover of Newsweek. It showed the Pope greeting the faithful at Jasna Góra. Niedenthal was also – together with English journalist Michael Dobbs – the first photojournalist let in to the Gdańsk shipyard during the 1980 strike.
He also documented the period of martial law. His most famous photograph shows a SKOT armored personnel carrier standing in front of the Moscow cinema in Warsaw, with a poster announcing a screening of the film Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola. This photograph became iconic of the period of martial law. Photos from Warsaw by Niedenthal were also the first to show this period abroad.
He was afraid to leave the country with his rolls of film, because there was a high risk that he wouldn’t be allowed back in. He temporarily emigrated to Austria in 1987, where the Eastern European branch of Time magazine had its office.
However, Chris Niedenthal’s work was not limited only to politically-tinged photojournalism. In 1999, he displayed Taboo, a series of several dozen large format photos of people who hadn't previously been portrayed for various reasons. They included, for instance, pictures of children with intellectual disabilities. Originally, Niedenthal planned to title the cycle Niech Moc będzie z tobą! (May the Force be with you!), but eventually he chose Taboo in order to place more emphasis on the issue of disability and the need to overcome fear of the unknown. Together with his friend, photographer Tadeusz Rolke, Niedenthal created the Neighbour series of photographs which refers to the book Neighbours by Jan Tomasz Gross and the film by Agnieszka Arnold about the pogrom in Jedwabne. The images featured a young Vietnamese woman, Rolke’s neighbor Maja, photographed in the scenery of Jewish towns. In 2006, on the 25th anniversary of the imposition of martial law and under the patronage of President Lech Kaczynski, another collection of photographs by Chris Niedenthal titled 13/12.Polska stanu wojennego (13/12 Poland During Martial Law) was published. The idea for a bilingual edition of the album came after the photographer was given his case file, created and supervised by officers of the State Security Service from 1973, by the Institute of National Remembrance. The album contains a lot of well-known images, however, a bigger part of it comprises previously unpublished photographs documenting the events of 1981 to 1983.
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, December 2011, transl. GS, 31.10.2014