A photographer who chronicled the recovery of a war-torn capital.
Zofia Chomętowska was one of Poland’s most active photographers in between the wars. She came from an aristocratic family and was brought up in Polesie, near Pinsk, an area which is no longer a part of Poland. She took her first photographs with a Kodak camera, but mostly worked with a Leica after 1928, immediately realising the advantages of this new, lightweight, compact camera. After using one for a couple of years, she compared it to the tools of classical art, writing for Świat magazine:
In photography, the rules of picture composition require as much study and work as any other visual art. Like a paintbrush, in incompetent hands, a lens will not help create a masterpiece.
In the mid-1930s, she moved to Warsaw and began making her living from photography, documenting the city’s architecture, then opened her own photographic studio a couple of years later. Alongside works which aestheticised the reality, she was also drawn to unembellished documentary photography. Directly before the Second World War, she took a series of such photographs, commissioned by the city’s mayor Stefan Starzyński. She pointed her camera at things which were about to change – wooden houses in Wola district, landfills, and city dogcatchers. The exhibition attracted a record number of visitors, and the photographer used her honorarium to buy herself a stylish Simca car.
Chomętowska’s career was interrupted by the war, but she still continued to take photographs. Unfortunately, the majority of her wartime works were lost. After spring 1945, Chomętowska took pictures of residents in the destroyed city, and any signs that normality was returning – one of which was this makeshift beauty salon.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018