Photographer Ilona Karwińska, in her new book, collects her own stunning photographs, archival images, original neon designs, and interviews with their designers to reveal the untold story of Polish neon...
Image from the book
A new publication celebrates the ingenuity behind some of Poland's most creative neon signs as captured by the lens of Ilona Karwińska
In 1929, the first neon sign in Poland went up in Warsaw. Popular from the start, the earliest neon signs were made to order - free in design, shape, and color, and significantly influencing other forms of advertising like poster design and typography. "Polish Cold War Neon" tells the fascinating story of neon in Poland by preserving and celebrating the remnants of this rich and influential history.
Designed and built by prominent architects, graphic designers, and artists, and overseen by a chief graphic designer in the state-run company Reklama, Polish neon signage was renowned for its outstanding technical and artistic qualities. During its peak, Reklama maintained over 1,000 neon signs, whose playfulness and folly stood out in dark and oppressed Poland, ornamenting otherwise drab cities and towns.
As David Crowley says in the foreword, "in the very best designs produced in Poland in the 1960s, rippling animation and fluid threads of light brought a kind of nocturnal magic to the city."
Today, most of the neon signs are gone, too expensive and fragile to maintain; belonging to no one, all that remains of them are their ghostly weathered "shadows".
Ilona Karwińksa's images of communist-era neon preserve a unique and significant moment in Poland's history.
- David Crowley, Royal College of Art, London
The book gathers together photographs taken over more than five years all over Poland, documenting what remains of a once extravagant plan to neonize the entire country during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Photographer Ilona Karwińska in "Polish Cold War Neon" collects her own stunning photographs, archival images, original neon designs, and interviews with their designers to reveal the untold story of Polish neon. There is information about the design and manufacturing processes and even interviews with employees of some of Poland's biggest neon manufacturers during the 60s and 70s. And then there is the sumptuous, full bleed photography by Karwińska.
The British photographer specialises in portraiture and world cultures. Based in London, Ilona Karwińska is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and the London College of Printing. She has been exploring the disappearing world of Cold War Era neon and graphics for more than five years, and has been credited with starting a new "school of neon", as well as helping to found the Neon Muzeum. Her work has been featured in Creative Review, A4, Icon, The Telegraph, Newsweek, and Time Out. Karwińska regularly exhibits in international galleries.
Mark Batty Publisher (markbattypublisher.com) is an independent publisher dedicated to making distinctive books on the visual art of communicating, showcasing the visual power and innovation of contemporary culture in all of its varied poses.
From the introduction:
The neon signs installed in Polish cities in the 1960s and 1970s were part of the international attempts to reconcile socialism and consumerism. Conferences in Czechoslovakia in 1957 and in the Soviet Union in 1958 set out to define a new kind of progressive advertising that would raise the tastes of consumers and rationalise their needs. Neon was given a key role in this new program. Illuminated images and words could denote a useful commodity or service ('Save with PKO for your apartment' or 'Sewing Machines Here'). Permanent, fixed to buildings, and bespoke, neon was even claimed as a tool for navigating the rapidly changing city: a radiant "You are Here".
Polish Cold War Neon
By Ilona Karwińska
Introduction by David Crowley
Published by Mark Batty Publisher New York and Thames & Hudson
Publish date: November 2011
Casebound: 224 pages
Size: 11 x 9 inches
See more images from the book at markbattypublisher.com
Source: Mark Batty Publishers