This exhibition at the "Zacheta" National Gallery of Art is the first-ever retrospective of the work of Leonard Sempolinski and simultaneously the first attempt at restoring the work of this exceptional photographer to its rightful place.
Leonard Sempolinski, one of the founders of the Zwiazek Polskich Artystow Fotografikow (Union of Polish Artist Photographers) and a long-time chairman of the organization, played a very important role in the Polish photographic community after World War II. Although known, he has been somewhat forgotten; little is known about his complete photographic oeuvre and many years have passed since audiences last ad an opportunity to see his works.
1. Warsaw, Corner of Brzeska and Kijowska Streets, 1977, 20 x 30 cm, property of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences
2. To Kazimierz, 1950s, 30 x 40 cm, privately owned
3. Naked Tree Trunks (Zablonowski Forest), 1959, 30 x 40 cm, privately owned
The artist had his first solo exhibition at the "Zacheta" National Contemporary Art Gallery in 1969. This famous show consisted of his series of photographs of the ruins of Warsaw and was mounted as part of the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Polish People's Republic. The author is known above all for these photos.
Sempolinski enthusiastically documented Warsaw's reconstruction, laborers at work, the participation of artists in this project and reconstructed or newly built quarters of the city. In the 1950s, he took an interest in the impoverished corners of Warsaw, but produced the greatest number of photographs of these places in the 1970s. These now constitute an unusual record of neighborhoods that no longer exist.
Sempolinski photographed the city street by street, building by building, following no pre-devised plan. His method brings to mind the work of famous French photographer Eugene Atget, who is referenced in the exhibition's title. Atget had a habit of saying, "I merely produce documents." The vast majority of Sempolinski's photographs are also "merely" documents, though they simultaneously function as highly capacious signs that can today be filled with meanings related to the history of places, the history of photography, its role in the reconstruction of memory, as well as its aesthetic, social and political impact.
4. Warsaw, Kanonia Street, pre-1939, 31 x 26 cm, privately owned
5. Warsaw, Castle Square, pre-1939, 24 x 30 cm, privately owned
6. Warsaw, pre-1939, 17,5 x 12,5 cm, privately owned
The artist produced thousands of photographs, which include a vast number of landscapes created during weekend and holiday excursions. These views perfectly match Jan Bulhak's concept of "fotografia ojczysta" ("native photography"), though they were rarely distributed by the author in published form. It was not until the 1960s that some of them were reproduced as postcards.
An independent photographer unfettered by any contract, Sempolinski also documented historical structures located in the countryside, and as a result is better known to architecture historians than to photography historians.
7. Chmielno, 1959, 30 x 40 cm, privately owned
8. Warsaw, Ruins of the Market Square, 1945, 19,5 x 29,5 cm, privately owned
9. Pavers (sketch of the MDM Urban Development), 1952, 30 x 40 cm, privately owned
He was an important part of the "struggle" for modern artistic photography in the years 1947-49. At the time, he and several other photographers (including Zbigniew Dlubak, Edward Hartwig and Fortunata Obrapalska) attempted to break with the pictorial tradition by referencing the aesthetics of the photographic avant-garde of the 1920s. Sempolinski took part in a number of historic exhibitions in 1948, including the I Wystawa Fotografiki Nowoczesnej (1st Modern Photography Exhibition) in Warsaw, the II Ogolnopolska Wystawa Fotografiki (2nd Polish National Photography Exhibition) in Poznan and the I Wystawa Sztuki Nowoczesnej (1st Exhibition of Modern Art) in Krakow.
In subsequent years, he would sporadically produce photographs that had little to do with reality. For example, his series of "agrografie" ("agrographics") of 1969 were abstract compositions created by applying chemicals directly to photographic paper and referenced "informel" painting. Among his landscapes, we find many images that are visual studies of forms, often assuming abstract shape. We can conclude from this that the photographer was familiar with the means of expanding the boundaries of photographic imaging, but consciously chose to follow a documentary strategy.
The power of this colossal collection of works lies not only in the quality of individual photographs, but also in the size of the collection, the systematic approach of the photographer who untiringly pursued a documentary project spanning many years, his visual "memorization" of streets, suburbs and meadows.
10. Warsaw, Ruins of New Town, 40 x 30 cm, privately owned
11. The MDM Urban Development After the Rain, 1952, 40 x 30 cm, privately owned
12. Warsaw, Bednarska Street, 1950s, 40 x 30 cm, privately owned
This exhibition at the "Zacheta" National Gallery of Art is the first-ever retrospective of the work of Leonard Sempolinski and simultaneously the first attempt at restoring the work of this exceptional photographer to its rightful place. The exhibition consists of four hundred photographs, which constitute only a fraction of the artist's oeuvre. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, while a special academic seminar (to be held on April 2, 2005, in the cinema of the "Zacheta" Gallery) will be devoted to issues of documentary photography.
Exhibition curator and seminar organizer: Karolina Lewandowska."Zacheta" National Gallery of Art
Director: Agnieszka Morawinska
Plac Malachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warszawa
tel. (+48 22) 827 58 54, 827 69 13, 826 83 81, 827 69 09, 827 68 24
fax (+48 22) 827 78 86