Edward Hartwig. Wywoływanie / Edward Hartwig. Developing

Edward Hartwig. Developing

16–24 Sep 2023
Curators: Marika Kuźmicz, Dariusz Mikołajczak
Cooperation: Adam Parol
Graphic design: Katarzyna Listwan

Co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage from the Culture Promotion Fund

We often associate the word “developing” with the medium of analogue photography. It is the process by which a previously created negative becomes visible by being transposed into a positive image. The process of developing has always been of key importance for the final result, i.e. the photographic print. Arguably, a photograph is created twice: when the photographer presses the shutter of the camera and when the resulting image is processed in the darkroom.
In the case of the photography of Edward Hartwig (1909–2003), the developing process was particularly important – his prints were often very different from the negatives, which were only a certain point of reference for the photographs themselves.

Hartwig, often called “the most famous Polish photographer,” constantly experimented in the darkroom, pushing the boundaries of photography and looking for new formal solutions. He often drew on the experiences of the photographic avant-garde and creatively transformed them. He was a photographer who could choose an intriguing frame and capture the “decisive moment”; he used the medium of photography to record fleeting and ephemeral situations or events. However, his pictures took their final shape in the darkroom – their processing “distanced” them from the reality captured by the photographer and preserved on the negative. This exhibition is an opportunity to take a look at Hartwig’s methods of work in order to learn the secrets of how his extraordinary images were developed.
The term “developing” can refer simultaneously to the artist himself, his biography and the evolving reception of his work. “The most outstanding photographic personality in Poland in recent decades,” “the father of Polish photography,” “the most important Polish photographer,” “one of the most interesting photographers of the 20th century” – this is what researchers and curators wrote about him in their articles and texts included in numerous catalogues of his exhibitions. These statements, however, were very rarely supported by arguments, although their authors often concluded that “Edward Hartwig still needs in-depth critique and analysis” or that “the oeuvre of this photographer requires much critical research.” In spite of this, such a study has not been done yet, in spite of numerous opportunities to do so during exhibitions of Hartwig’s oeuvre, large and small, during his lifetime and after his death, including Fotografika at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw in 1959.

It was this exhibition, together with an album of the same title published a year later, that marked a turning point in the photographer’s career. It showed the transformation of his visual language, a move away from pictorialism towards the creation of images using purely photographic means. Working only with a camera and prints in the darkroom, without introducing any other media, Hartwig constructed frames both rooted in reality and deviating from it. He opted for bold foreshortenings, unusual vantage points in relation to the photographed objects, sharp contrasts of blacks and whites, using all the possibilities of the camera. What emerged as a result were autonomous images, very visually attractive.
Hartwig worked with photography for almost 80 years. It is therefore all the more surprising that there are very few texts discussing his work in the context of world photography and his real impact on the history of Polish photography, referring directly to the rich visual material he left behind.
The slogan of this year’s Vintage Photo Festival – “Observatory” – has become a great pretext to take a close look at the artist’s working methods and tools. This exhibition is the result of this approach.