I do not recognize the people in the picture. From my dad’s tales, I know that this young woman in the dark coat is my grandmother; after a long time I start to see her resemblance to the person I knew. I do not know what she thought when she stood there and with a smile stared at the camera, was she happy then? This picture was taken in Poznań, supposedly. But we are from Mazovia. When I was a kid I loved to look through my old family photos, I looked at my past because grandfather or grandmother is certainly part of me, you can feel it especially when you are a child. Today these photos are hidden in a plastic bag, at the bottom of the closet I rarely see. Now I want to know from where they were brought, by whom, who is in them. I want to regain a sense of continuity.
In Poland, few have been “in a home” for generations. Only a few live in houses or flats that would fill with family furnishings and objects dating back to the 19th century or early 20th century. In our family collections, we have resources that come at least from the period after the end of World War II. Things that were collected earlier usually got lost or lasted only in a fraction of its original form. Because many times in Poland everything had to start from scratch and in a new place. The war caused widespread loss of tenements, mansions or simple cottages. Not only porcelain collections but also daily necessities, work tools and family memorabilia went missing. After the war, the population massively migrated, voluntarily or under pressure to seek livelihoods and new places to live. One of these, after 1945, was Wroclaw – the city to which they came from central Poland, lured by propaganda and the collective image of the better, post-German conditions of life. To the city where they were imported from the east because after moving the border, there was no other way out. To which they came voluntarily for the trade or the desperate need to find a new home here. From the train – passenger or cargo – people were getting out with objects that were remnants of their previous life – of a life before the war in Lvov in which they were former landowners of “eastern territories”. They came from demolished central Poland but also were displaced here from the villages of eastern and southern Poland under the “repatriation” and post-war “Wisła” action. They brought things, but only those that could be packed in dramatic circumstances, in haste, sometimes with the help of the army.
Later on, in the PRL there was almost “nothing” and even less you could hold of your own – private resources were nationalized and what was produced was collective, socialist, state. In spite of this, people continued to move and search for social advancement and jobs: state farms, manufacturing plants, public institutions, universities, factories, and after 1989 – places to do good and fast business. The transformation was a sudden opportunity to get out of the state of shortage and absence, which most often required a trip to a larger city. People began to make up and own – their own and best.
At the exhibition “Relocated” we present personal, family and commemorative photographs, which came to Wroclaw after 1945 along with people who reinhabited the city. We present photos that migrated with their owners for various reasons (economic, political, personal) and from different parts of Poland or the world. Photos brought by those who voluntarily or involuntarily came here; just after the war or later – during the Polish People’s Republic and by those who have come here today to look for work, education, social advancement and development opportunities. On these photographs, you will not see Wroclaw – but places, people and things that were left there, from where they came from.
We are interested in compiling photographs that are considered professional and artistic, with those that are home and commemorative. Those that are kept in public collections, with those that are in private collections, dispersed and disorderly – being out of the area of public interest every day. Therefore, the photographs we have collected at the exhibition are photographs from two different orders. The first one is a photograph by Witold Romer – artist, photographer, engineer, photoworker, founder of the Wroclaw University of Technology Department of Photography. These pictures, saved by the family in dramatic circumstances, came here from Lvov. These are photographs, some of which are the result of Romer’s artistic work and as such were purchased in the post-war period by the National Museum in Wroclaw. As a result, the institutional and state context has become a “national heritage”.
The second part is the photographs we find in the homes of people living in Wroclaw – photos taken from drawers, albums, taken from the walls. Photos-souvenirs that show people, places and times before coming to Wroclaw. A large part of them are photos that will be brought, copied, described and attached to the exhibition by the residents of Wroclaw, who responded to our invitation to share selected photos and their related stories.
As a result, we offer a look at photographic collections as a cultural, historical and historical asset, and at Wrocław as a city rich in diverse histories of its inhabitants.
The photographs by Witold Romer are presented courtesy of Barbara Romer.
Curators: Agnieszka Pajączkowska, Łukasz Rusznica