How can one function in an oppressive system? Even though Jerzy Lewczyński often used humour, his commitment and critical approach were undeniable.
The title of Lewczyński’s series refers to the carved heads of royal senators that adorn the ceiling of the Audience Hall at the Wawel Royal Castle, Kraków. At the same time, he evokes former propaganda portraits of exemplary workers that were intended to mobilise the workforce into fulfilling their quotas with greater effort.
The photographer portrayed a worker, a man of his time, focusing on an individual in danger of being overlooked or silenced. The model in the photograph has covered his face with a spade, rendering him unrecognisable. The everyman he depicts is concealed behind the tool, bereft of identity and reduced to his function.
The Wawel Heads series of portraits of anonymous workers was taken with subversive intent. The contradictory photographs aimed to show that the efforts of 'real people' were going unnoticed, and that portraits of exemplary employees hanging in workplaces covered up the lack of genuine state support. On the one hand, these pictures were a declaration of the photographer’s independence, and on the other, an exposé of the ostentatious system in power. Lewczyński’s work criticised themes that had been appropriated by official propaganda.
In an interview, Lewczyński revealed his emotional attitude to the work:
The surreal Heads series also includes a cap hanging on a stake, clothes drying on a line, and a tattoo of idealised love.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MB, Nov 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.