The artist was interested in the visual language employed by commercial photographers in Warsaw.
While working on Warsaw Photographer, Antonina Gugała visited a hundred and two studios operating in Warsaw, and ended up taking pictures of the shop fronts of over eighty establishments. She ordered photographs for her master’s thesis from each of them. For this type of document, both photographer and model can retain a certain creative freedom. One is allowed to smile, use a semi-profile picture, or light the face differently, unlike the clearly defined rules for ID-card, passport and visa photographs. The basic premise behind Gugała’s experiment was to place the entire responsibility for the final results on the photographers’ shoulders. The collection of images thus obtained allows a closer examination of the commercial photographers’ inherent socio-cultural code.
The artist was inspired by some advice from the ladies in her dean’s office, who refused to accept a photo for her thesis, on the grounds that ‘she was not that ugly’ and that whoever had taken the photo she brought in had insulted her. Gugała later admitted that:
I went to each studio wearing the same blouse and no makeup. I gave the photographers carte blanche. I never expected the photos would turn out so differently.
In the text to accompany the photographs, Gugała referred to the theory of Terence Wright, who divided the way photographs are perceived into three categories: looking ‘through’ the photo, ‘at’ the photo, or ‘behind’ the photo. According to the latter, photography may be viewed as an indicator of certain cultural rules, determining what kind of behaviour is considered normal. The material gathered by Gugała allows one to investigate the role commercial photography plays in shaping everyday aesthetics.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018