It is a specific kind of topographical journey across the country (described by its post-Yalta borders), whose route is determined by milestones in the form of military cemeteries and memorials raised by the communist authorities. This, however, is not just a propagandist photographic document, but also, perhaps even especially from today's perspective, an atlas of social realist and socialist modernist sculptures and monuments: from classic obelisks and figural groups to more or less expressive and abstract forms in stone and concrete. Trees, an inseparable component of military cemeteries, are a recurring motif.
This typology of monuments and sites of memory is ascetic in its form. Hardly any human figures are visible here, while the photographs – a lot of which can be recognised from other propagandist publications, such as postcards – are uninspired and blatantly focused on the leitmotif, although some outstanding and poetic images also appear, like gleams from behind memorials photographed against the sun. Next to wide shots, there are also some details showing the commemorative texts or the expressive aspects of the textures and tectonics of sculptures. On another note, the images are mainly credited to well-known photographers, while a majority of pictures were taken by Adam Kaczkowski.
The history of the liberation march of the Polish People's Army and Red Army is arranged in a simple, straightforward way, matching the chronological order of the eastwards-moving front line. The black and white photos, printed as rotogravure, are interleaved by schematic maps of military operations, and a plain, sans-serif typography. The spread layout, precise and restrained, is subdued to the expression of the presented objects and photographs. The veneer background resembling enamelled and polished finishes of the wall units so favoured by the military printed on the dust jacket of Polegli na polu chwały is also noteworthy.
Each of the albums has its own way of representing the totality of the politics of the memory project forced by the government of the Polish People's Republic. By referring to the classical monumental form, this project reshaped the Polish landscape in a way that affects it to this day. From this perspective, the entire country becomes a single, vast memorial site, marked by traces of martyrology and testimonies to heroism and struggle. We are dealing with an emanation of a broader ideological and visual construct, a specific kind of death propaganda, serving a legitimisation of the new political regime.
Theses monuments were used to support the prestige of the communist authorities, which founded its identity on the military triumph and ostentatiously communicated memory about mostly anonymous victims of the war, fallen soldiers, and the brotherhood in arms with its ally, the Soviet army. The elevated photography in the album endues this narrative with credibility and pathos, as well as entices with modern discipline and vast scale.
photographs: Adam Kaczkowski, Teodor Hermańczyk, Henryk Hermanowicz, Feliks Zwierzchowski and others
editing: editing team in cooperation with the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, Military Historical Institute, and Visual Arts Studio
graphic design: Maciej Hibner
publisher: Ruch Publishing House, Warsaw
year of publication: 1970
volume: 128 pages and 120 pages
format: 32 x 24.5 cm
cover: linen hardcover with dust jacket
print run: 5260
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com
, transl. Ania Micińska, November 2015