Photographer who had a strong influence on the development of Polish photography in the sixties and seventies. Born on the 6th of September 1909 in Moscow and died on the 28th of October 2003 in Warsaw.
His father ran a photography workshop in Moscow and later in Lublin. Around 1925 Edward Hartwig took up photography himself. In the years 1930-32 he was interested in painting. He cultivated this passion for the rest of his life. In Lublin Hartwig befriended the clourist painter Zenon Kononowicz. From 1932 to 1934 he studied at the Graphisches Institut in Vienna. The well-known photographers Rudolf Koppitz and Hans Daimler were among his teachers. In 1929 in Lublin he presented his works for the first time. In 1938 he already worked as a freelance photographer. In the thirties he took part in exhibitions in Lublin and Warsaw alongside Polish pictorialists.
His style was formed under the influence of Jan Bułhak’s work. He also admired other artists from the Photoclub in Vilnius. Hartwig proved himself to be a master of portraying morning fogs in the forms of impressionistic landscapes from the Lublin region. He also excelled in capturing genre scenes referring to the tradition of Polish painting. Sporadically he would take portraits in the Old Town in Lublin. His style gradually began to resemble that of the Belgian pictorialist Leonard Misonne and the Frenchman Pierre Dubreuil, who referred to Constant Troyon’s painting. Hartwig also successfully employed the so-called noble techniques such as print toning (he toned bromide prints with gold), which he used to create his photographs from Kazimierz Dolny – a town which he especially fancied. He was a prominent figure of the Lublin Photographic Society, which was founded in 1936. In 1938 the society organized the Exhibition of Polish Photography.
His works complied with the program of "fatherland photography", which was propagated by Bułhak – apart from displaying a broadly interpreted realism merged with the tradition of pictorialism, they expressed national meanings. In 1938 he took part in the 1st Exhibition of Polish Fatherland Photography in Warsaw, which was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There he won a silver medal. In July 1944 he photographed the murdered in the prison in the Lublin Castle. In the years 1944-46 he was a prisoner of a forced labour camp in the Soviet Union. After returning to Poland he settled down in Warsaw. He co-founded the Association of Polish Art Photographers in 1946. In 1948 he participated in the prestigious exhibitions: "Modern Polish Photography" (The Club of Young Artists and Scientists, Warsaw) and "Modern Art Exhibition" (Art Palace, Cracow), although at the same time he exhibited traditional, pictorial works.
What was Hartwig’s understanding of the term modernity? He was inspired by abstractionism and surrealism or more accurately by a mix of both, which led to a minimization of meaning. However Hartwig’s later conceptions were chiefly based on abstractionism rather than surrealism, which he substituted with trends such as expressionism or symbolism. In the fifties and sixties Hartwig also became one of the most prominent creators of the socialist realism trend. He won many awards and participated in most of the competitions and exhibitions of the time. He was one of the few photographers, who conducted interesting formal experiments (Workers and Machines). In 1958 in Warsaw the famous album Photography was published, which defined Hartwig’s style as that of an outstanding essayist referring to the painting tradition, who also posterizes and employs modern, abstract, often poster forms. Some of his works were close to being surrealist allusions. In the sixties his stance earned him international recognition - a publication entitled Edward Hartwig was issued by the Odeon Publishing House in Prague.
The publishing of the album Behind the Scenes of Theatre (Warsaw 1969, 2nd edition 1974, 3rd edition 1983) was a major event in Polish photography of the turn of the sixties and seventies. The works it included showed the posterizing of images in a modern way. The photographs from the later album Photographic Variations (Warsaw 1978) were also posterized. The next publication containing Hartwig’s photographs entitled Wierzby (Warsaw 1989, introduction: Julia Hartwig) constituted a return to the stereotype of Polishness and to the times of the artist’s youth.
In 1988 an individual exhibition of his works was held at the famous Houston Fotofest in the USA. A similar showing took place in 1990 as part of the huge exhibition L'AnnÉe de l'Est at the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne. In 1991 thanks to Jerzy Olk Hartwig’s works were presented individually at the second East-West Photo-Conference "European Exchange", which was the most important international photographic exhibition held in Poland in the nineties. He wrote about photography:
Photography is a visual art, which may be realized using traditional methods, however drawing inspiration from the world of imagination and fantasies is also good. In my practice I’m often guided by intuition. Without intuition there would be no art.
In the final stages of his career he experimented with colour photography. Once again he addressed the issues of the abstract image and its coexistence with the figurative form. In his artistic conception literally every representation underwent the processes of posterization and elimination of semitones. He altered negatives using various methods, which was a way of fulfilling modernity’s postulates. By doing so he followed in the footsteps of such artists as Bronisław Schlabs (fifties). Hartwig aimed to individually and characteristically aestheticize the images, which had chiefly painting qualities rather than photogenic features. This resulted in "artistic formalism" (the term was first used by Jerzy Olk). Hartwig’s works may be compared to the painting conceptions of the American Aaron Siskind, who in the fifties searched for universal values in abstract expressionism. Many of the Polish artist’s photographs are allusive abstractions or longings for abstraction, in which the realism of fragments reminds us about palpable reality (for instance people, fruit). He emphasizes the structures of given imaginary forms, the graphicness of lines, the often dark tones. This is a distinguishing feature of his experiments. The modern experiment was an important fingerpost on the very long path of the artist’s seekings. For Hartwig photography was a material used not only to posterize but also to multiply (pop-art’s influence) and to deform. In his multi-aspectual work one may also notice a fascination with the beauty of the female body, which he often juxtaposed with abstract structures. Since the fifties his name is a synonym of "artistic photography".
Works in the collections of amongst others: Art Museum in Łódź, National Museum in Wrocław, Murray Forbes Collection in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA), National Library in
Warsaw, Portrait Collection Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
Author: Krzysztof Jurecki, Art. Museum in Łódź, May 2004.