Despite the time pressure and the fast pace of the political events, Erazm Ciołek managed to prepare a comprehensive and carefully composed photobook. Its raw, almost newspaper-like form, typical for the period of paper rationing, serves the photographs and enhances their expressive capacity. The title derives directly from one photograph, which was printed in a posterised version on the cover. The book opens with a timeline of the strike at the Lenin Shipyard and ends, following the convention of artist's books, with a note about the author from which we learn what kinds of cameras and lens Ciołek used.
The publication was composed clearly and with deliberation, with one full-frame photograph per page. A certain rhythm is conjured in the book (which lacks traditional chapters) by a recurring miniature of the opening photograph. Ciołek presents his documentation of the strike in chronological order. The record extends from the first, tense hours of the protest, through the prolonged period of negotiations, to the euphoria after signing the agreement with the authorities. Both the leader, Lech Wałęsa, and his supporting collective – the strikers, as well as the people gathered outside of the Shipyard's gate, workers' families, residents of Gdańsk – are the protagonists of the events, and therefore also of the book. Once immersed in these historical events, it is easy to omit one more protagonist – Erazm Ciołek himself. The photographer, remaining on the other side of the lens, is literally everywhere during this heated period: on the Shipyard's grounds together with the striking workers, near the negotiating table, and accompanying the crowd in front of the Shipyard's gate, but also right by Lech Wałęsa. There is also no doubt about which side of the conflict he supports. He completely dismisses the point of view of the authorities and their representatives negotiating with the workers, and the Security Service agents, the Police and the Riot Police.
Ciołek's photographs reflect the essence of Solidarność as a mass social movement. When looking through the book, we gain an insider's insight into the authentic, poignant revolt – a mass social mobilisation. Many of the photographs contained in the book very quickly became national icons (for instance, the photo showing Lech Wałęsa and Prelate Jankowski atop the Shipyard gate surrounded by a mob). Even though the strike at the Shipyard was photographed by many, it was Erazm Ciołek who, thanks to the power of his pictures but probably also his engagement, made history as the photographer of the events of August 1980, thus becoming the symbolic owner of the photographic image of the strike. Ciołek also continued to revisit his Gdańsk images for several of his publications released during martial law as well as after the fall of Communism. The photographer complemented his relationship with Solidarność and underlined his political engagement when he created a series of photographic portraits of the opposition candidates in the first democratic elections of 1989, later used in the campaign posters (famous photographs showing the candidates next to Lech Wałęsa).
Erazm Ciołek created a sincere and unpretentious document of the era, which stands in stark contrast (also, or perhaps most of all, in terms of the publishing quality) to the numerous commemorative and myth-generating albums published after 1989. It is a rather rare Polish example of engaged photography and of a photographer who combines his awareness of the historical mission and gravity of the documented events with a dedication to artistic aspirations and the technical quality of his work.
photographs: Erazm Ciołek
text: based on the Strike Information Bulletin Solidarność, Robotnik newspaper, and Information Bulletin
graphic design: unknown
publisher: The Publishing Committee of ISTU Solidarność Mazovia Region, Warsaw
year of publication: 1981
volume: 112 pages
format: 21 x 15 cm
cover: paperback, brochure
print run: unknown
photographs courtesy of Kraków Photomonth
Original text: polishphotobook.tumblr.com
, transl. Ania Micińska, October 2015