One of the most significant and prolific Polish female art photographers of the interwar period. Born on December 8, 1902 in Porochońsk, into an aristocratic family of the Drucki-Lubecki dukes. Died on May 20, 1991 inBuenos Aires.
One of the most significant and prolific Polish female art photographers of the interwar period.
Chomętowska grew up in Polesie, close to Pińsk, territories that are now part of Belarus. The picturesque and inaccessible lands of Polesie and the local people became the most important subjects of her works. Despite her aristocratic background Chomętowska had the ability to merge with the local environment and became an impartial observer of the Polesie customs. She photographed hunters, fishermen, women doing laundry in the lake - not trying to create stylised images but rather portraits close to life.
The History of Polish Photography
This exotic Poland, as the author called it, was a popular subject among the photographers of the interwar period. However, Chomętowska was perhaps the only one able to capture the diversity of themes and multiplicity of histories found in the region. Athough the works do not make up a consistent series, a common theme binds them strongly, making it possible to present them jointly. All photographs were taken in the 1940s, in locations personally close to Chomętowska – such as in the vicinity of Prochońsk (the family estate of the Drucki-Lubecki) or Dobrosławki (the estate of the Chomętowski family).
A vast collection of negatives portraying the multiple aspects of the life in Polesie is undoubtedly the most complete documentation of this long gone world.
The Hussies and Gentlemen of Interwar Poland
Since 1927 she used a Leica. She belonged to the small group of Polish authors who used this camera, which she wrote about in a collective publishing from 1936, Leica in Poland. The most prolific period of Chomętowska's work falls on the 1930s, when she moved to Warsaw. In the capital she photographed the interiors of palaces (the Kronenberg's, Koniecpolskis', Blanka and others). As a member of the Polish Photography Association she debuted in Warsaw in 1932 and since that moment she was a participant of the most important national photo events. Before WWII she had two individual exhibitions: in 1936 in Warsaw and then in 1939 at the famous gallery of Czesław Garliński, where photographs were never shown before. She belonged to the elite associations: Polish Photoclub and the Warsaw Photoclub.
Chomętowska's photography wasn't limited only to the artistic field. In 1936 she won a contest for the official photographer of the Ministry of Communication. As part of her assignment she took series of photographs promoting the beauty of Polish culture and nature, which was supposed to be showcased on the train cars. In 1938 she also worked as an artistic editor of the monthly magazine Kobiety w Pracy (Women at Work, trans. OT)
For an exhibition entitled Warsaw Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, organised at the brink of WWII at the National Museum, by the city's president Stefan Starzyński's request she did a series documenting the aspects of Warsaw living that required change (garbage disposal, or dogcatcher).
Warsaw’s First Photographers
Chomętowska did not abandon photography after the end of the World War II. A large part of the existing substantial collection of prints, showing the ruins and the reconstruction of Warsaw, was included in the first post-war exhibition at Warsaw's National Museum titled Warsaw Accuses! (May-June 1945). This landmark presentation, which later became an international traveling show, was a strong statement (in the political sense also) about the condition of the Polish capital after the war. Except Tadeusz Przypkowski, Chomętowska was the author of the largest number of prints. The photographic section of the show also featured works by Maria Chrząszczowa, and, in its subsequent installments, by Edward Falkowski. She photographed the capital during the war as well, however the majority of these images were lost.
Chometowska's photographs taken between 1945-1946 entitled Warsaw Lives testify to the unusual development of the author's documentary talent and the attempt at moving away from easy emotions or the banal.
Along with the exhibition Warsaw Accuses! Chomętowska traveled around Europe. In London she decided to migrate and from there she submitted a written accession to what was later known as ZPAF (Union of Polish Art Photographers), which makes a co-founder of this association. In 1947, after her daughter Gabriella and son Piotr came to London, they all migrated to Argentina where she never returned to photography. Her oeuvre was forgotten for a long time.
Poland: A Multi-Layered Photographic Portrait
art of the interwar period
In 1979 Warsaw Historical Museum showed Chomętowska's triptych that featured the capital at three different historical moments: the pre-war, in ruin and renovated city.
The most complete recollection of Zofia Chomętowska photographs was done by the Warsaw Asymetria gallery in 2010 at the exhibit entitled Leikarka.
Author: Karolina Puchała-Rojek.
Text and reproductions courtesy of The Archeology of Photography Foundation January 2011.
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