Bujak walks around the old camp in search of specific evocative and dramatic frames. He squats or even lies on the ground with his camera, trying to capture and convey the victim's perspective. At the same time, he treats this place as a kind of landscape subject, while his task as a photographer is to enhance the power and expression of the existing image of reality by means of various artistic methods.
From today's perspective, the disturbing and somewhat pompous formalism of Bujak's photographs may come across as too obtrusive, however it is important to remember that this book was created before the wider public became acquainted with Arendt's and Adorno's theses (“Is it possible to write poetry after Auschwitz?”) and before discourse on the Shoah was freed from the dominance of communist propaganda. There is not a single mention of Holocaust or Shoah in the book, as the official language of the historiography in the Polish People's Republic was not yet familiar, or in fact did not want to be familiar with these terms. Bujak's photographs – in spite of numerous close-ups of details of the camp and museum displays – are also devoid of religious symbols. Oświęcim… is a secular and socialist vision of the extinction – a rather surprising interpretation for an artist whose entire later artistic career was predominantly related to religious-themed photography. This book about Auschwitz-Birkenau was commissioned by the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, which of course explains its official tone, which matched the historical policy of the Polish People's Republic. Paradoxically, this album was the book debut of the most prolific author of photobooks in Poland.
Bujak's makes competent use of the photographic rhetorics. On the black and white, high-contrast rotogravures saturated with soft black, the remains of the camp begin to look almost like ancient ruins. The artist also follows the changes affecting the landscape, the progressing entropic process and the infiltration of the old camp grounds by plants. On one hand, he aestheticises the landscape of an extinction site, and on the other, conjures a feeling of terror. We see motifs of flames, smoke, human hair, barbed wire – a canonical set of symbols of Auschwitz subjected to a visual transformation. This luridness is not, however, delivered directly. Bujak makes interesting use of images from the camp's years of activity by photographing them as elements of the museum display. It is a canny way of coping with circumstances in which even the most expressive contemporary photographs are unable to give justice to the events that took place here during the war.
Bujak's Oświęcim… shows the concentration camp as a museum and commemorative site visited by crowds of, among others, youth. It is an International Monument to the Victims of Fascism, a place of commemorative events and ceremonies, which has become a ritualised form of remembering, inscribed, together with the subsequent anniversaries of the camp's liberation, in the official calendar of both Polish People's Republic and UNESCO. Photographs taken by Bujak, as well as his followers, in Auschwitz are a testimony to the broader political and cultural process leading to the transformation of the site, a place charged with a very particular history, into a universal and monumental symbol – also visual – of war and extermination.
photographs: Adam Bujak
text: Adolf Gawalewicz
graphic design: Witold Chomicz
publisher: Sport i Turystyka, Warsaw
year of publication: 1972 or 1973
volume: 208 pages
format: 30 x 24 cm
cover: linen hardcover with dust jacket
print run: 15250
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com
, transl. Ania Micińska, October 2015