Henryk Hermanowicz, an outstanding student of the master Jan Bułhak, was born in Vilnius and worked as an employee of the famous Krzemieniec Lyceum (where he led the photography workshop and collaborated with Stanisław Sheybal). He settled down in Kraków after the World War Two, becoming a significant figure within the local environment. He regularly documented, among others, the construction of Nowa Huta, however his true passion turned out to be the old Kraków, “seen as the capital of the Piasts and Jagiellonians. The most beautiful city in Poland,” to quote his words from the introduction to his most popular album, Kraków. Cztery pory roku (Kraków: Four Seasons). The photographer aims to prove the latter statement true on every single spread and photograph in this impressive publication.
The album, first published in 1958, is an example of the Thaw-era renewal of the aesthetics that presented Kraków through the prism of its scenic attributes and history, as opposed to its contemporary status. The city, filled with historical buildings and untouched by the war, looks absolutely timeless in Hermanowicz's lens. On one hand, no traces of war, and on the other – lack of any references to the perfect socialist industrial complex of Nowa Huta – the book escapes the typical propagandistic pattern that combined history with the socialist modernisation. Kraków is somewhat extra-territorial here, a city that breaks away from the reality of the Polish People's Republic. This ideal image could be almost equally valid in 1910 or 1930. The cityscape changes, but only according to the cycle of nature. We look at four versions of it, corresponding to the seasons of the year, as if nature was the only force determining the recurring rhythm of the city.
The visual strength of the 160 black and white photographs contained in the book and their transparent, rigorous composition is compelling. Hermanowicz took all pictures in portrait format, so an unusual one for vedute and topographic photographs, and then reproduced them in the same size, allocating two images on each spread. The pattern is only broken by moving margins – appearing on the spine's side and, alternately, above or below the photographs. Each photograph is accompanied by a short, topographic, and at the same time lyrical title: Planty Park at Night, An Alley in Kazimierz, and so on.
The series is photographically quite versatile, although as a whole it perfectly matches the formula of modernised pictorialism typical of the mid-20th century. We will thus find views that are very strongly reminiscent of Bułhak's early shots from Dresden, as well as more modern, nearly Hartwig-like, rhythmical and graphically appealing views of snow-covered roofs or captivating shadows. Hermanowicz takes pictures from various points of view and heights, from ground level and up from church towers, and also doesn't hesitate to use a telephoto lens. He always pays attention to composition. Photographs of historic architecture come to the fore. The photographer brings out its assets and beauty by making use of natural effects: fog, snow, rain, but also by hinting at classic motifs and photographic tricks – he photographs silhouettes of monuments and architectural details against the light, and peeks into cul-de-sacs and gateways. The image of old, historic Kraków is subtly complemented by photographs in which the role of staffage is filled by elderly persons. Hermanowicz's work emanates with an excellently balanced majesty of craft and subject.
Kraków. Cztery pory roku has been repeatedly renewed, redesigned, and expanded (though the first edition has remained unparalleled artistically and with regards to publishing), by the same token becoming one of the most famous and wide-spread photographic tales about Kraków.
photographs: Henryk Hermanowicz
text: Jerzy Banach
graphic design (dust jacket and title page): Adam Młodzianowski
publisher: Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków
year of publication: 1958
volume: 198 pages
format: 33 x 24.5 cm
cover: linen hardcover with dust jacket
print run: 15205
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com
, transl. Ania Micińska, October 2015