Stanisław Niedzwiecki – Photography

Stanislaw Niedzwiecki – b. May 23, 1890 in Szajkuny, gub. Vilnius. He felt himself 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, then in Persia, where he worked as an archaeologist and photographer. He corresponded with the magazine “Fotograf Polski” published at that time, publishing in it photos from Persia and theoretical treatises on the aesthetics of photography. After World War II, he settled in Jelenia Góra. He died at the age of 87. The collection of photographs and negatives was inherited by Witold Niedzwiecki from Gorzów. The National Museum in Wrocław has a small number of original photographs. The collection of the Gorzów Photographic Society includes a large number of negatives and a few photographs.
The exhibition was prepared from badly damaged negatives, mostly glass, by Marcin Andrzejewski, an artist photographer from Drezdenko.
The photographs presented at the exhibition were taken in the former northern Persia. Most of these places are located within the borders of present-day Iran.
Adam Sobota

Adam Sobota: Photography and archaeology
The photographic archive of Stanisław Niedźwiecki, who died in 1976, has recently become the subject of interest of photography enthusiasts, which led to an exhibition in Jelenia Góra, and may stimulate further research into his output. Niedźwiecki (his surname is sometimes incorrectly given as Niedźwiedzki) came from Wieluń, after World War I he photographed in Persia, and after World War II in the vicinity of Jelenia Góra, where he settled. After his death, the fate of these photographs concerned only his colleagues from the Jelenia Góra Photographic Society, who donated some of the pre-war prints to the National Museum in Wrocław, and the rest (negatives and prints) were entrusted to Witold Niedźwiedzki, a journalist friend of the author, who later moved to Gorzów Wielkopolski. In 1992, he handed over these photographs to the city authorities, who in turn entrusted them to the care of the Gorzów Photographic Society. There are 56 original prints and about 120 negatives, glass (9×12 and 13×18 cm.) and celluloid, from the period before World War II. To this must be added 121 original prints of various formats, which are located in Wrocław, and an undetermined number of negatives and photographs that may have remained in private hands (especially from the post-war period).
Two years ago, a hundred of Stanisław Niedźwiecki’s negatives from the time of his stay in Persia were copied by Marcin Andrzejewski, associated with GTF, a graduate of the Higher School of Photography in Jelenia Góra, currently also a member of the ZPAF. Copies were made on barium photographic paper and sepia-toned. The plates were reproduced in their entirety, including the edges, to emphasize the atmosphere of antiquity. In December 2005, Wojciech Zawadzki, the director of the “Korytarz” photographic gallery of the Jelenia Góra Cultural Center, organized an exhibition of these prints at the local Karkonosze Museum. This set also included about 20 original prints by Stanisław Niedźwiecki, which led to a certain confrontation. Marcin Andrzejewski’s copies form a cohesive set in terms of aesthetics, but with all the care for fidelity and quality of reproduction, they create an atmosphere that is to some extent due to the copyist. Of course, it is no longer possible to use the old low-sensitivity papers, which gave a slightly different tonal distribution and a specific gray-brown value; which could be more easily recreated with computer processing, but in turn the printouts would be deprived of the magic of the classic transfer of the image in the darkroom. As a result of this juxtaposition, the exhibition lost some of its uniformity, but the viewers had an opportunity to reflect on what it actually means to get to know old photography today. We rarely have the opportunity to realize what manipulations are used by presenters of archives and how they were originally presented. In addition, today we are often more interested in what was on the margins (literally and figuratively), which the author eliminated in the name of values valued in the past.
We know Stanisław Niedźwiecki’s interesting biography partly thanks to the information he provided to his friends in writing and orally, and it would still need to be supplemented and documented, although this data can be treated as very probable. He was born on May 23, 1890 in Szajkuny in the then Vilnius Governorate. He was educated in Russian schools, and before World War I he studied anthropology and ethnography at the University of St. Petersburg. Apparently, he served as a captain at the court of Tsar Nicholas II, and after the revolution in 1917 he found himself in Transcaucasia. During this period, he was even supposed to be in the government of the so-called of the Kazakh Republic, and also began to photograph. From about 1921 to 1935 he stayed in Persia, where he found employment in archaeological expeditions operating there, making a lot of photographic documentation. In 1926 he was commissioned to research and document in Azerbaijan, and in 1931 he was engaged by an American archaeological expedition in Persia. At that time, he maintained correspondence with Polish photographic magazines (Miesięcznik Fotograficzny, Fotograf Polski), sending photographs and comments from Tauris to discuss the technique and aesthetics of photography. At the beginning of 1936 he returned to his homeland, taking photographs along the way in the Middle East, Greece and Turkey. He continued to take pictures in Poland, joining the homeland photography movement initiated by Jan Bułhak. In 1945 he settled in Jelenia Góra, where for 10 years he ran a landscape and artistic photography studio in the Youth Cultural Centre. He was a popular and easily recognizable figure, as he was constantly traveling on a bicycle with a camera, not only in the surrounding areas, but also throughout Poland. During this period, he had 25 individual exhibitions of landscape photography and enjoyed high prestige in the circles of the amateur photo movement and PTTK.
The works shown in Jelenia Góra are, of course, a description of exotic areas, important from many points of view, but they inspired me the most to reflect on the relationship between photography and archaeology.
It is obvious that the work of an archaeologist, ethnographer or anthropologist requires the preparation of documentation, and since the mid-nineteenth century, scientists have photographed themselves for this purpose or engaged photographers on their expeditions (just as Bronisław Malinowski engaged Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz in 1913, who in 1914 returned to Europe to join the Russian army and was then in the same place and position as Stanisław Niedźwiecki). The manner in which a subject or a person should be presented in photographs was at that time regulated more by the norms of artistic culture than by the criteria of specialized documentary. Therefore, Stanisław Niedźwiedzki’s photographs have many features of picturesqueness and mood that have been adopted in painting since Romanticism. Studying such faculties as anthropology and ethnography at that time required the acquisition of photographic skills, and as for Niedźwiecki’s aesthetic views, they could have probably resulted from the general refinement acquired through visits to museums and reading albums, as well as from reading the photographic press disseminating at the beginning of the 20th century aesthetics of pictorialism. Magazines such as the Russian-language “Vestnik Fotograf” and the Polish-language “Fotograf Warszawski” were certainly easily available in St. Petersburg. As I mentioned, in Persia he maintained contacts with Polish photographic magazines since the 1920s, which was probably a consequence of earlier relationships. It is probable, however, that Niedźwiecki came into direct contact with the circle of photographers-artists only after returning to Poland in 1936, for example through his countryman from the Vilnius region, Jan Bułhak.
The task of documenting archaeological monuments and works of art is one of the source ideas justifying the presence of photography in culture. This results, for example, from the statement of Francois Arago – promoting Daguerre’s invention in 1839 – who noticed that if Napoleon had had a photograph during his Egyptian campaign, its effects, at least for the knowledge of monuments, would have been more positive. Another pioneer of photography, Fox Talbot, who was also an amateur archaeologist, pointed to the usefulness of photography in identifying and comparing finds, and devoted two tables to this problem in his 1844 book The Pencil of Nature. At first, they were considered in connection with the issue of documenting archaeological objects and masterpieces of art, regardless of whether someone wanted to limit photography in its ambitions or not. Already in the mid-nineteenth century, this issue was practically analyzed in their photographic documentations of cultural objects, e.g. the Alinari brothers in Italy, Karol Beyer in Warsaw, Ludwik Bielitski in Legnica, and Hermann Krone in Dresden (born in Wrocław).
Archeology is a name based on the Greek word “arche”, meaning the basic principle, the primordial thing. The phenomenon of photography has a lot in common with this concept in various aspects. After all, photography refers to a direct, basic way of perceiving (the analogy of a camera with an eye), and we attribute to it the ability to directly record the objective factor of time. So, regardless of what it represents, a photograph is itself an archaeological object, and in order to study the past, we can collect photographs, just like pottery, weapons or manuscripts. This was perfectly emphasized in the second half of the 20th century by Jerzy Lewczyński in his artistic and collecting activities called “the archaeology of photography”. The “Archaeologist of Photography” is interested not only in objects that were once in the field of view of the camera, but also in the ways and motives of other people’s perception of these objects, and all the unique features of this moment in history in which photography is created. Someone who photographs simply thinking about objects important to a certain branch of science may not think about other properties of photography. But someone who takes them into account will express it through the aesthetic aspects of photography, in a way appropriate to the current artistic consciousness.
Stanisław Niedźwiecki, as I have already stated, took care to give his photographs clear aesthetic values, i.e. he tried to ensure that photography – as an image of archaeological and ethnographic objects – also expressed the values of its own “arche” in many ways. However, the way it is expressed is never something unambiguous. Each photographer determines the essence of the current time according to his own needs and possibilities. Art historians recognize that in the 1920s, the most modern understanding of the essence of photography consisted in isolating the viewed object, in a surprising way of capturing it, in maximum contour precision, contrast and creating analogies between nature and modern technology. In Stanisław Niedźwiecki’s photographs, we will not notice such features being emphasized. The author prefers a more traditional way of seeing, directly associated with the Romantic concept of the picturesque. In his works, we usually see scenes with quite extensive plans, where objects, architecture or people are integrated with the landscape, which by default goes far beyond the frame of the picture. The author does not look for “arche” in abstracted elements of matter, but sees the source principles rather in the stability of the relationship between people and nature and in the traditional relationships between them. The ruins or excavations described by the camera remind us of the impermanence and changeability of cultures and things, but this imperative of transience has something of the rhythm of nature, where time is associated rather with repetition than with civilizational progression. The local people represent the culture that appears to the European visitor in various types of archaicity that are found in and above the earth. This impression is not changed by rare inclusions in the form of products of Western modernity.
Stanisław Niedźwiedzki gave his last exhibition (in 1973) the title “Exoticism and Romanticism in Photography”, which confirms the impressions described above. Romance is associated with with expressing the feeling of a certain emotional unity with what is distant and limitless (the history of foreign cultures, the forces of nature). This unity is effectively suggested by emotional stimulation, by the mood caused by aesthetic effects, conducive to sublime and synthetic experiences. Romanticism does not lead to posing decisive questions about the basis of cultural differences or the legitimacy of the dominance of the European point of view. Such issues also make themselves known in this current, but their irritability is mitigated by the belief in the essential identity of human nature. Meticulous, objective descriptions and isolation of the examined objects would not be conducive to achieving such impressions.
Stanisław Niedźwiecki’s photographs often show us the art monuments of the region of ancient Persia: architecture, bas-reliefs and ornaments. Many of these forms are not unfamiliar to us, as there were direct or indirect links between this culture and European art in antiquity or the Middle Ages, but photography itself is certainly something different from them. Photography is the result of European aspirations for realistic visualization, based on the Renaissance perfection of painting perspective and the democratization of imaging. On the other hand, the principles of traditional Persian art, which were alive until recently, are very different from the rules of European painting, which respected the principles of linear perspective. Persia was, moreover, an exception among Muslim countries, as local traditions widely allowed depictions of human figures, which were condemned elsewhere. Persian paintings were characterized by clarity of composition, clear contours, clear characterization of figures, with conventional and free treatment of space and expressive understanding of perspective. The photographic views of Persia and the Persians created by Stanisław Niedźwiecki seem to be something very different from how this culture perceived itself. So – by looking at people busy with everyday matters in a historical landscape – do we see something other than themselves? Sometimes one of them looks at the photographer and we may wonder if he sees what the photographer sees. Does not the psyche of people, formed over thousands of years of tradition, cause a different kind of images and meanings to be produced on the basis of the same physiological basis? Are romanticism and exoticism concepts that can also be generated from other positions? Nowadays, the principles of photography are used in a similar way everywhere and by everyone. During Niedźwiecki’s stay in Persia, there were only a handful of native photographers. Today, a tourist who hunts for exotics in different parts of the world perceives in a similar way as many local camera owners.
It would follow that the “arche” of photography is stronger than anything that photography can be associated with in its cultural applications. It can carry or contain various understandings of the exotic or romantic and remain directly readable despite the many filters through which we usually look. Such a filter is also the understanding of modernity, which for some results from identifying with a certain point of view, while for others it means only one of the levels of information that photography can convey.

Listopad 2003, Mała Galeria GTF, Gorzów Wlkp

Czerwiec 2005, Muzeum Karkonoskie, Jelenia Góra