The World After the War
The interwar period of 20 years was a very special time. Those two decades were full of contrasts and were characterised by critical social transformation and dynamic development of new technical solutions. For people still remembering the atrocities of the Great War, those years were like a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, at the same time these days were gradually leading them to another catastrophe. The exacerbating economic crisis, strongly perceptible in the ‘defeated’ states, especially in the Weimar Republic, brought about enormous social inequalities and the rising tension, which could have easily triggered conflicts. Women were working, gained voting rights, and could do sports, including competitively, posed for pictures with smiles on their faces, ready to take on new challenges which came on them with the new era. Emancipation gained ground and led to complete transformation of the female figure image. The factors that contributed to this phenomenon were the growing popularity of sports, press, photography, changes in fashion, and the emergence of fashion photography, which led to the widespread availability of illustrated magazines on various topics. Industry developed at an impressive speed and the growing factories employed more and more people.
Taking photographs became easier and more people were becoming interested in it. Amateur photography was thriving because cameras were available in houses of the rich.
Leica with a 35mm film was elevated as a symbol of dynamic progress in the field of photography. This camera allowed taking quick photo shoots and became a symbol of modernity and technological progress.
Apart from advances in equipment, another factor which exerted significant influence on photography and transformed it into a mass form of art were the big improvements in the quality of prints. Thanks to them, illustrated magazines could develop very dynamically.
The exhibition organized in the gallery of the International Cultural Centre in Krakow carries on the discussion on the themes around which most of the previous exhibitions at this institution were constructed. The focal point has been the cultural heritage of the Central Europe and so it is this time. The current exhibition is the result of the long-lasting cooperation of the International Cultural Centre with Landschaftsverband Rheinland in Bonn. “More than Bauhaus” is the exhibition organized for the 30th anniversary of establishing the Centre. Despite the slightly surprising and misleading title, the exhibition provides the audience with a lot of information about the political and social background in the Weimar Republic and in Poland.
First of all, the exhibition tells the story of photography. It describes its numerous dimensions, namely artistic, documentary, reportage, its involvement with fashion, but it also tells about socially engaged photography.
The exhibition concept was inspired with the “Mnemosyne Atlas” by Aby Warburg, who started working on it in 1924. It quickly turned out to be an exceptional and valuable idea. The “Atlas” became an impulse for numerous activities in the field of visual art. The “Atlas” focused on selected motives which had been present in art since antiquity and continue their presence even today. Contradictory elements were juxtaposed with each other and thus allowed to prove that certain motives had been present in culture for ages. The selected ‘travelling’ motives were being searched for by the creator of the “Atlas” and, as time passed, the publication itself became the ‘motive’ which migrated through decades. The individual panels in the “Atlas” contain arranged pictures, memories, keepsakes, and loose associations.
The work by Aby Warburg encapsulates the spirit of the era and that is why it is often discussed along with works by avant-garde artists. “In order to understand the phenomenon of the “Atlas”, its collage nature seems particularly important (…)
Aby Warburg proposed a unique way of thinking which, instead of focusing on linear narration, gives preference to fragments, snippets, titbits. (…) this (way of thinking) is characteristic for the period following World War I”.
The “Atlas” seems an ideal inspiration for someone who wishes to present a given phenomenon or issue in all of its complexity. Certain combinations of elements and readjustments give rise to certain questions, which, in turn, provoke other questions. In this way, narration is built and stories are produced. The curators of the exhibition in Krakow took the work by Aby Warburg as a starting point and analysed the period when the Weimar Republic existed, bringing out fourteen topics related to politics, society, art, and culture. Out of these topics the exhibition in the International Cultural Centre presents the following: revolution and the birth of the republic, dance, portrait, fashion and photography, work, New Vision, sports, glamour and misery, epilogue.
Thanks to such an extraordinary concept and inspiration, the exhibition takes us on a well-organized journey through the interwar period. Notes in the form of photographs make up unique boards full of memories.
The main sources of information for the visitors of the exhibition are photographs. In the interwar period, photography and film became fully-developed means of artistic expression and also served as means to communicate and to document events. Photography underwent numerous changes and was affected by technological advances. It accompanied humans during the crucial events of the era and gained an enormous expressive power. It became widely available and known to the mass audience.
The history of the 20th century narrated through photobooks is amazing and intriguing. The dreams of Central European artists, utopian visions of the future, struggle for independence, and documents of everyday life mix with propaganda, tragedy, and war. Viewed through the prism of photobooks, Central Europe is both beautiful and brutal, touching and shocking.
The story about the Weimar Republic is supplemented with Polish parallels presented in photographs as well as interesting examples of illustrated press published at that time in history. The part of the exhibition which tells the story of the Weimar Republic covers the period from 1919 until 1933 – from the moment when the Weimar Republic was established until the emergence of the German Reich. People such as Martin Munkácsi, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Lotte Jacobi, and August Sander are whose pictures we can see in this part of the exhibition. Apart from their works, photos by Polish photographers of the interwar period are presented. Visitors can admire works by Aleksander Krzywobłocki who is known for surrealistic photographs and collages, the famous portrait photographer Benedykt Jerzy Dorys, Jan Bułhak who is a representative of pictorialism, Henryk Poddębski – a renowned author of reportage photography who was fascinated with how the Polish state was being modernized at the time, Janusz Maria Brzeski, who created avant-garde pictures, and Zofia Chomętowska, who made her name with photographs documenting the picturesque region of Polesie where she came from.
The story of Zofia Chomętowska reflects transformation, development, and changes in the life of women during the interwar period in a perfect way. One of the pictures presented at the exhibition entitled “Polesie – a Photographic Journey” shows a modern car, young men and a woman who accompanied Zofia in her journey through her native region and helped to photograph it. Natalia Żak, a curator from the International Cultural Centre, wrote that
photography of the interwar period was the field where mostly men were active, but nevertheless there was an increasing number of women back then who became interested in this art as well.
An interesting example confirming this statement is the story of Zofia Chomętowska and how she developed her passion for photography. At first, she thought of it as just a hobby. What gave her pleasure as an amateur turned into a professional career at a later stage. Thanks to photography, she became financially independent and gained wide recognition.
She took portraits, pictures of landscapes, documentary photographs, and pictures for advertising purposes using her favourite Leica camera. Photography became her work and an indication of her emancipation.
The exhibition in Krakow is an enormously interesting journey through the interwar period. It perfectly sums up the most important technological achievements of this period, the social developments, and artistic achievements. On the other hand, the photographs also show the second face of those times – poverty, sadness, conflicts and controversies, which gradually led to escalations of hostility and to another enormous military conflict.
Written by Julita Deluga
More than Bauhaus. German photography between the wars and Polish parallels
International Cultural Centre
Rynek Główny 25
Organised by: International Cultural Centre, LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn, Deutsche Fotothek in Dresden, F.C. Gundlach Foundation in Hamburg
The program concept of the ICC: Agata Wąsowska-Pawlik, Łukasz Galusek
Curators: Lothar Altringer, Dr. Adelheid Komenda (LVR-LandesMuseum, Bonn), Dr. Jens Bove (Deutsche Fotothek, Dresden), Sebastian Lux (Stiftung F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg), Natalia Żak (ICC)
Exhibition design: Paweł Żelichowski
Coordination: Dorota Kosiec, Anna Śliwa
Honorary patronage: Dr. Michael Groß, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany