‘A photographer in love with the capital’ – is how the press described Siemaszko in 1963.
The artist was born into a family of photographers in Vilnius. His parents, Tatiana and Leonard, ran a photographic shop, and his father’s studio was even visited by Józef Piłsudski. During World War II, Zbyszko Siemaszko, together with his brothers and father, joined the Home Army, where he documented the life of the partisans.
After the war, he moved to Warsaw. His photographs show the building of the Eastern Wall, Castle Square without the Royal Castle, and new neighbourhoods in the Mokotów, Bielany and Koło districts, as well as cinemas and railway stations in their glory days. He documented the astonishingly rapid reconstruction of Warsaw after the war, and one can feel society perking up again after the fall of Stalinism.
Siemaszko portrayed the capital as beautiful, modern and stylish. His framing was precise, and he would wait for the best light to photograph buildings. His work highlighted the character of modernist buildings and how they blended in with the cityscape. He liked to depict the city from the rooftops, and even took photographs from cranes, planes and helicopters.
In addition to architecture, Siemaszko was also a keen photographer of passers-by. The photo above was taken on Puławska Street. The author caught his accidental model as she was running, suspended a few centimetres above the pavement. Despite the rain, it is quite bright, with sunlight reflecting from the puddles.
Siemaszko idealised Warsaw – he showed a dream of a modern metropolis, a new city arisen from the rubble of the old. In his photographs, the capital is pulsing with life and shining in the glow of neon signs.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.