This book, published by the Archaeology of Photography Foundation and the National Centre for Culture, contains photos by Zofia Chomętowska showing Poland a year before the outbreak of World War II.
Zofia Chomętowska is one of the most outstanding Polish photographers and documentarists. In the 1920s, she started recording the home and social life in her family mansion in Polesie and the surrounding area, as well as her travels throughout Europe. A decade later, photography had become her profession – Chomętowska opened a photographic studio in Warsaw, sent her works to exhibitions and competitions, and published them in the press.
In 1936, she became a full-time photographer at the Department of Tourism of the Ministry of Transport.
She started out anonymously, under the pseudonym Wrona (Crow). When the organiser of the job competition, Mieczysław Orłowicz, found out who she was, he claimed that it was impossible for a woman to cope with the task.
– wrote Edyta Borkowska in Rzeczpospolita.
Her work involved photographing tourist attractions in the Second Republic. These photos were to be displayed in public places, such as trains and stations, with the aim of reviving tourism and promoting a positive image of the country. They therefore served a propagandistic purpose.
The book Poland on the Road contains photographs from 70 cities and towns, including a summer resort near Otwock, processions in Łowicz, globes in the library in Nieborów, rafts on the river in Nowy Sącz, industrial buildings in Katowice, a Zakopane bar, a spa park designed by Ignacy Hanusz in Busko-Zdrój, and the Dramatic Theatre in Płock. In addition to landscapes and sites, the pictures sometimes depict Chomętowska and her friends – for example, in the photo showing the building of the EKD railway station in Podkowa Leśna, Zofia’s husband, Jakub, is buying a newspaper.
The photographer worked with a Leica, a camera with 135 film, which had never been used for formal assignments, as some professionals believed that photography was an art and it therefore required something more than just ‘pressing the shutter button’. Yet these conventional images, often reminiscent of postcards, have stood the test of time.
– writes Borkowska.
However, this collection, which has miraculously survived in the archives of the photographer, and has only recently been brought back to Poland by the Archaeology of Photography Foundation, is not homogenous, as is always the case with Chomętowska. It combines official images with seemingly private ones, and tourist shots with a keen sense of humour, offering a unique record of daily life in pre-war Poland.
The photos belong to the broader trend of documentary photography; they are an important part of it and complement the better known and more widespread heimatfotografie trend in Europe, showing its more intimate face.
The collection, consisting of 1,300 images, was digitised and thoroughly described in 2012. The monographic album contains a selection of this series, divided by geographical area. The chosen photos are supposed to tell an interesting pictorial story, and not just a historical one.
Zofia Chomętowska, Poland on the Road
Editors: Karolina Puchała-Rojek, Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska
Authors: Karolina Puchała-Rojek, Maciej Szymanowicz, Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska
Graphic design: Krzysztof Bielecki
Publisher: Archaeology of Photography Foundation
Co-publisher: National Centre for Culture
Publication date: 2013
Thanks to Chomętowska I have learned, for example, how the castle, which was part of Fredro’s wife's dowry and inspired the poet to write Vengeance, looked. I also found out about a sanatorium where Queen Jadwiga took a bath before giving birth. I constantly discover something new, and the more I know about these photographs, the more this book becomes interesting and captivating.
– said Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska, one of the editors, in an interview with Rzeczpospolita.
Sources: Archaeology of Photography Foundation, rp.pl, author: AS, 6.03.2015, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, 07.04.2015