Jerzy Benedykt Dorys (real name: Rotenberg) was a prominent fashion photographer and portraitist. He was born in 1901 in Kalisz and died in 1990 in Warsaw.
In 1946 he became one of the founders of Związek Polskich Artystów Fotografików (The Association of Polish Art Photographers). He was a long-standing member and chairman of the association’s artistic committee, and he was also an honorary member from 1961.
He started taking amateur photographs in Kalisz in 1914. There, he attended a musical high school in the years 1918-22. In 1920 he participated in the Polish-Soviet War. In the years 1925-29 he was active in the Polish Photography Admirers Society. He exhibited work from 1927 and had his first individual exhibition in 1930. He took photographs of architecture, landscapes, portraits and nudes. He presented a pictorial style, photographs that were softly drawn and bring to mind the artistic devices used by such photographers as Henryk Hermanowicz, Edward Hartwig and Anatol Węcławski. The preserved photographs from the 1920s show genre scenes from Warsaw. He also created works making use of the bromoil process. In 1929 he decided to become a professional photographer; he opened a photographic studio on Aleja Jerozolimskie, a main throughfare in central Warsaw, which functioned until 1939.
He was a portraitist of the worlds of art, science and politics. He took pictures of Helena Makowska and Nina Andrycz, amongst others. Some of Dorys’ pictures are realistic, embedded in a tradition that refers to Polish parlour portraits and perhaps also to the works of the famous Canadian portraitist Yousuf Karsh, who became popular around the world in the early 1940s. Karsh emphasised social standing, professions and the psychology of the face. Dorys also took pictures of popular Polish actresses which searched for the canon of beauty.
His photographs deliberately went beyond the typical portrait, sometimes being fashion photographs and presenting references to the aesthetic of pictorialism. In the interwar period he also collaborated with the press. In 1939 he participated in the defence of Warsaw and his studio was destroyed. In the years 1931-32 Dorys created his most famous series Kazimierz nad Wisłą (Kazimierz on the Vistula), which was copied and partially presented at an individual exhibition that took place as late as 1960. This work is certainly his most important achievement and ought to be considered as significant as the photographs from the same period taken by Stefan Kiełsznia in Lublin or by Józef Szymańczyk in the vicinity of Kosowo Poleskie.
Dorys showed the life of a small provincial Polish-Jewish town in a documentary way but with a portraitist's vision. Interesting shop windows are contrasted with various figures of adults and children. The photographer also captured events that occurred in a circus. This ought to be seen as a sign that he drew inspiration from mass culture, which was an exception in the Polish photography of those times. He recorded also signs of poverty and even ugliness that had expressionist appearances, which exceeded the programme of pictorialism. He certainly didn’t think much of these photographs as he treated them as private documents. It almost seems that he had anticipated the post-war work of Zofia Rydet - from the series Mały człowiek (Little Man) to Zapis socjologiczny anno domini 1978-1988 (Sociological Record Anno Domini 1978-1988). In 1946 the author of Kazimierz nad Wisłą, who had changed his surname from Rotenberg to Dorys during World War II, opened a new photographic parlour in 29 Nowy Świat street, which was in business until the mid-80s. Dorys was granted the award of the Ministry of Culture in 1960. He received this distinction again in 1973 and 1975. He was an activist of Warszawskie Towarzystwo Fotograficzne (The Warsaw Photographic Society) and Sekcja Fotograficzna ZAIKS (The Photographic Section of the Polish Society of Authors and Composers). The series Kazimierz nad Wisłą is one of the most important achievements of Polish documentary photography from the interwar period. This work was presented at the most famous exhibitions of Polish photography outside Poland (New York, 1979; Paris 1980/1981; Paris 1992). Dorys’ works were recently presented in Poland at the exposition Założyciele i nestorzy ZPAF (The Founders and Nestors of the Association of Polish Art Photographers; The Old Gallery of the Association of Polish Art Photographers, Warsaw, 2002).
Dorys’ works may be found in the collections of the National Museum in Wocław and the Museum of Art in Łódź.
Author: Krzysztof Jurecki, Museum of Art in Łódź, June 2004.
Translated by: Marek Kępa