Photography and Archeology

Stanislaw Niedzwiecki – b. May 23, 1890 in Szajkuny, Vilnius Governorate. He studied in Russian schools. At the court of Tsar Nicholas II, he served as a captain. As a result of the events of 1917, he found himself first in Transcaucasia, and then in Persia, where he worked as an archaeologist and photographer. He corresponded with the “Polish Photographer” letter published at that time, posting his photos from Persia and theoretical dissertations on the aesthetics of photography. After World War II, he settled in Jelenia Góra. He died at the age of 87.

When in 2004 I obtained the negatives of Stanisław Niedźwiedzki for the first time, I was speechless and amazed. Preparing this exhibition was a lot of work, because the negatives were in very bad condition.

It took me over 6 months to prepare for the exhibition, and the process of identifying the places where the photos were taken did not bring much success. Nevertheless, the images speak for themselves, representing the spirit of everyday life and architecture of Persia’s last years.

The photographs presented in this exhibition come from two sources. The first one is the Gorzów Photographic Society, which has about 350 negatives and slides by Stanisław Niedzwiedzki, and the second source is my own, consisting of about 1200 negatives by Niedźwiedzki from Persia alone.

Marcin Andrzejewski

Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion
Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion
Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion
Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion

At the end of 2005, the photographic archive left behind by Stanisław Niedźwiecki served as a pretext for a broad presentation of his works from Persia. The latter were based on 100 preserved films, currently copied on photographic baryta paper in accordance with the unified, archived convention of Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, a graduate of the Higher School of Photography in Jelenia Góra, currently also a member of ZPAF. About 20 of the author’s original prints enriched this collection (out of about 180 of his copies, mostly working ones), which allowed for a certain confrontation. Viewers had the opportunity to think about what it means to get to know old photographs today. Rarely do we have the opportunity to see what changes the presenter of archival records can make and how they were originally exposed.
Stanisław Niedźwiecki was born in Szajkuny, then the Vilnius Governorate, in 1890. He was educated in Russian schools, and before World War I he studied anthropology and ethnography at the University of St. Petersburg. After the revolution of 1917, he went to the Caucasus and started taking photographs there. Starting from c. 1921 to 1935, he was in Persia as a hired photographer with archaeological expeditions. He’s back
to his home at the beginning of 1936, joining the Polish photography movement initiated by Jan Bułhak. In 1945 he settled in Jelenia Góra, where he ran a landscape and artistic photography studio at the Youth Cultural Centre. He died in Jelenia Góra in 1976, and part of his archive was preserved by his colleagues from the Jelenia Góra Photographic Society.
Photographs from Persia inspired me to reflect on the relationship between photography and archaeology. The task of reporting archaeological monuments and works of art is one of the source ideas justifying the presence of photography in culture.
This was reinforced already by François Arago promoting Daguerre’s invention in 1839 or by Fox Talbot. This issue was practically analyzed in the photographic documentation of cultural objects, e.g. the Alinari brothers in Italy, Karol Beyer in Warsaw, Ludwik Bielitski in Legnica and Hermann Krone (from Wrocław) in Dresden.
The word archeology comes from the Greek word arche, meaning a basic principle, a primordial phenomenon. Photography has a lot in common with this concept in many of its aspects. After all, this refers to the direct basic mode of perception (analogy of the camera with the eye), and we also attribute to it the ability to record the time factor directly.
Regardless of what it depicts, the photograph itself is an archaeological object, and we can collect photographs to study the past, just as we collect fragments of pottery, weapons or manuscripts. When Stanisław Niedźwiecki gave his photographs from excavations aesthetic values, he insisted that the photograph itself should exhaustively express the values of its own “arch”. However, the way of expressing it is never unambiguous. Each author of photography defines the essence of the present in terms of their own needs and possibilities. Art historians agree that the most modern perception of the photographic essence in the 1920s consisted in separating the viewed object in a surprising approach, in optimal contour precision, contrast and creating an analogy between nature and modern technology. However, Niedźwiecki perceived the source principles more in the stability of the relationship between man and nature and in the traditional relationship between them. The ruins or excavations described by the camera remind us of the instability and changeability of cultures, but this emphasis on the passing of time has something to do with the rhythm of the weather, where it is more related to repetition than to the progress of civilization.Stanisław Niedźwiecki titled his last exhibition in 1973: Exotics and Romanticism in Photography. Romance is associated with with expressing a certain emotional unity with what is distant and elusive (with the history of foreign cultures, forces of nature). Romanticism does not lead to posing decisive questions about the background of cultural differences or about the justification for the dominance of the European point of view. Issues of this type remaining in this trend signal their existence, but their sensitivity is tempered by the belief in the essential identity of human nature. Detailed, objective descriptions and separating the examined objects would not contribute to creating such impressions.
Stanisław Niedźwiecki’s photographs can be perceived as a confrontation of European and Persian cultural traditions. Photography comes from the idea of Renaissance rationality and the need to democratize culture. Persian art survived into the 20th century in forms shaped in the Middle Ages. One can ask the question whether, looking through the camera’s eye at people busy with their daily affairs, we can perceive the image differently than this culture perceived itself. Can the concepts of romanticism and exoticism be generated from a different standpoint?
The fact is that nowadays the principles of photography are applied everywhere and by everyone in a very similar way. When Niedźwiecki was in Persia, there were only a handful of native photographers. Today’s tourist, who hunts for exotics in different parts of the world, perceives it in a similar way to many local camera owners.
The above would simply that the “arc” of photography is stronger than anything that photography can be associated with in its cultural applications. It can contain or contain different understandings of the exotic or romantic and remain directly legible despite the many filters through which we often look at things. Another such filter is the understanding of modernity, which for some means identity with a certain perspective, for others it is only one of the levels of information that photography is able to convey.
Adam Sobota

Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion
Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion
Marcin Seweryn Andrzejewski, Wet Plate Collodion