The album, published two years before the outbreak of the First World War, appeared during a period of intensified eviction of Polish families from their estates in Greater Poland, so it was also clearly interventionist. The amount and quality of the photographs, the precise structure of the whole, and the fine publishing make one acknowledge it as one of the earliest and most interesting auteur photo-editing endeavours. At the same time, it is one of the most captivating and extensive documentary projects, as well as one of the first as comprehensive and photographically methodical coverage of manorial architecture (and Polish architecture in general).
The publication is divided into two parts: textual and visual. A short introduction from the author is followed by a series of concise descriptions of each edifice, extending over forty-four pages. The captions are straightforward and based on conversations with each property's owners, rather than systematical archival research. Nevertheless, Durczykiewicz did a very good job when writing the general descriptions of the palaces, their ownership status, and the history behind each of them. The main part comprised 238 photographs (the vast majority in landscape format). The simple, sophisticated documentary photographs are laid out in pairs on all pages, which are interleaved with thin sheets characteristic of photo albums. The rigorous typology of Greater Poland's manors and palaces, ordered in alphabetical order, also includes several full-page views of the major and most prominent buildings (such as the Rogalin and Śmiełów palaces). Some of the other edifices are displayed on two or even more pictures, in order to better illustrate their architectural assets. We are definitely dealing with an artist who is experienced with and talented at taking photos of architecture.
Durczykiewicz's photographs are striking thanks to their diligent preparation. The buildings were photographed at different times of year, so as to avoid the architecture being blocked out by trees, while individual frames are composed in a careful manner that brings out the natural, picturesque effects, such as buildings reflected in garden ponds or even in vast puddles. And even though it is obvious that all of the places photographer comes across are well-kept, inhabited households, there are hardly any people in Durczykiewicz's images. He is clearly guided by his passion for topographic and architectural documentation tinged with patriotism. As he writes in the introduction, somewhat justifying his ambitious photographic and publishing undertaking:
While traveling across the Duchy, I noticed that our heritage – noble manors of all sizes – these witnesses of bygone greatness, are getting thinner in number, either due to the rebuilding of the historic homesteads of our ancestors, or due to their demolition and the erection of brand new ones.
The alphabetical arrangement of the publication not only highlights the systematic method, but also the vast range of noble residences. We see palaces and castles like that of magnates, modest, traditional manors, as well as peasant-like dwellings (Wyszanów!). By creating such a comprehensive documentation, Durczykiewicz incidentally becomes the author of a significant photographic work within its genre, a certain sociological record of A.D. 1912, which is also charged with a specific social and historical perspective. It is an almost statistical description of noble residences, which end up being the summa of Polish society and its material legacy. This is national and classist patriotism combined.
The photographer is interested in his contemporary reality, deliberately avoiding nostalgia or immersing in artistic photography, unlike one of his successors, Jan Bułhak. However, just like the latter, Durczykiewicz had a modern approach to his work and tried to capitalise on its commercial potential – he also reproduced the photographs from the album on self-published postcards. The changing social and political situation that permeated Poland after it declared independence contributed an interesting ending to this story. Under the economic pressure, Durczykiewicz moved his photo lab to Gdynia and ended up as one of the most famous authors of photographs and postcards documenting the construction of the new city and harbour – a topic that is, both architecturally and socially, almost diametrically different from his inventory of noble manors in the Duchy of Posen.
photographs and text: Leonard Durczykiewicz
publisher: Leonard Durczykiewicz, Czempin
year of publication: 1912
volume: 44 + 122 pages
format: 36 x 26 cm
cover: linen hardcover
print run: unkown
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com
, transl. Ania Micińska, October 2015