Best known for her shots of architecture, most of which were devoted to Warsaw, Chrząszczowa published of an important photographic account of the Polish capital in ruins in 1945.
Photographer, known for documenting Warsaw right after World War II.
She was born into a family of Warsaw industrialists in 1913, the eldest of the three daughters of Maria (nee Gebethner) and Jozef Pfeiffer. After graduating from a popular school run by Kowalczykówna and Jaworkówna, discovered photography at the two-year Municipal School of Ornamental Art in Warsaw.
She married Michał Chrząszcz, the owner of a property in Rudze near Kraków, in September 1934. As Chrząszczowa's father wrote in his memoirs,
I had but one objection – every marriageable town girl has very little idea about living in the country, and the role that awaits her after marrying a landowner. Therefore I made one condition, that the marriage could only take place once Marysia had spent a test period as a housewife on the property.
She gave birth to two children, Andrzej and Maria. She did not stop photographing after relocating and starting her family - on the contrary, she intensified her practice. She captured family celebrations, everyday life in the countryside, as well as her son’s development. Shortly before the outbreak of war in September 1939, she moved back to live with her parents in Warsaw. Her husband went to serve at the front, where he vanished in the eastern borderlands of Poland. The photographer spent the war in Warsaw, working in the Foto-Greger store at the Central Welfare Council.
From the ruins - photography after the war
Almost her entire photographic output was lost in a fire during the war. The earliest preserved collection is her record of Warsaw in ruins. The strong symbolic and emotional content of the photographs makes them distinct from other documentary photographs from the period. Iconic shots include the Madonna of Warsaw and images of the deserted interiors of ruined buildings. Seventeen works from the series were included in the exhibition Warszawa oskarża! / Warsaw Accuses!. A large part of this archive is in the collections of the Historical Museum of Warsaw.
Towards the end of the 1945, Chrząszczowa documented the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the cities of Wrocław, Jelenia Góra and Kłodzko. Having returned to Warsaw, she worked as a photographer up till the mid-1970s, for the Polish Press Agency and the Foto-Service studio in 8 Marszałkowska St. headed by Kazimiera Funkiewiczowa, as well as for the Exhibitions and Fairs Company, where she took extra commissions as a retoucher.
Chrząszczowa also ran a photographic studio at the Faculty of Polish Architecture at Warsaw Polytechnic from 1953 to 1974. The extensive body of her architecture shots in the institution's collection testifies to the fact that she was not interested in photography exclusively as a visual aid for lecturers and students, but also in capturing obscure alleys, backyards and the outskirts. It was a period during which Chrząszczowa made photographs of contemporary architecture that are characterised by both documentary and artistic qualities.
Absorbed by her professional practice, Chrząszczowa rarely exhibited her works. Her photographs were included in such albums as Sześcioletni plan odbudowy Warszawy / The Six-Year Plan for the Reconstruction of Warsaw (1950), Ogrody polskie / Polish Gardens, by Gerard Ciołek (1954), MDM (1955), Sandomierz (1956), Zamki śląskie / Silesian Castles, by Bohdan Guerquin (1957), Architektura drewniana w Polsce / Wooden Architecture in Poland, by Witold Krassowski (1961). She also published texts in the magazines Stolica, Architektura and Kobieta. Issue 15/1949 of the latter featured her poem Ulica Miła / Miła Street commemorating the drama of the Warsaw ghetto.
Some of Chrząszczowa’s photographs were published under the pseudonym “Stefan”, which she also used as her logo when submitting works to contests. She was a member of the Association of Polish Art Photographers from 1952. She died in Warsaw in 1979.
Author: Dorota Jarecka.
The text and reproductions are courtesy of the Archeology of Photography Foundation; January 2011.