Exhibtion "Hartwig: Unfinished Portrait

29 July (opening 7 p.m.)
30 july - 20 August 2022 (exhibition, Mon.-Sat. 12.00-7.00 PM)
The Czapski Palace (level -1), Krakowskie Przedmieście 5, Warsaw

curators: dr Weronika Kobylińska, dr Marika Kuźmicz
display: Katarzyna Listwan
translation: Karol Waniek
PR cooperation: Adrianna Molka

organiser: The Edward Hartwig Foundation
cooperation: Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw

“The most outstanding personality in Polish photography over several decades,” “father of Polish photography,” “the most important Polish photographer,” “one of the most interesting photographers of the 20th century” – this is what scholars and curators wrote in articles and texts on Edward Hartwig’s life and practice in numerous catalogues accompanying his exhibitions. Very rarely, however, were such statements supported by concrete arguments, although the authors often stressed that “Edward Hartwig needs insightful commentaries and analyses” or that "the photographer’s oeuvre still requires much critical research.” But it has never actually been studied and analysed, despite numerous opportunities to do so, both during his lifetime and shortly after his death. His works were featured in numerous exhibitions, major and minor, including the famous "Fotografika", which took place at Warsaw’s Zachęta Gallery in 1959.
This exhibition, together with an album under the same title that came out a year later, was a turning point in Hartwig’s work. It showed the transformation of the visual language used by him. "Fotografika" marked a departure from Pictorialism in favour of images based on purely photographic means of expression. Without introducing any additional media, using only the camera and prints made in the darkroom, Hartwig composed frames simultaneously rooted in reality and departing from it. He opted for bold foreshortenings, unusual vantage points in relation to the photographed objects, bringing out contrasting blacks and whites and taking maximum advantage of the possibilities offered by the camera. As a result, he created autonomous, extremely visually attractive images.
"Fotografika" became an “export” exhibition, often shown abroad because of the modern and universal form of the presented photographs; unfortunately, it was followed by hardly any reaction from the Polish artistic circles. Hartwig achieved success: he worked and had his works exhibited, he published many books with circulations that seem unattainable from today’s perspective, but reflection on his work practically came down comments on the evolution of his practice, his impressive prolificacy as a photographer and ability to drive the artistic community. Later, when Hartwig had gained the status of a doyen and classic because of his age and the size of his output, those who wrote about him mainly took up the question of the length of his creative path.
Although it is difficult to argue with this last statement – Hartwig worked with photography for almost 80 years – the fact remains that there are very few texts that would analyse Hartwig’s output in the context of global photography, describe his actual impact on the Polish history of photography, or simply reflect on the rich visual material he left behind. That is why, as part of the exhibition Hartwig: Unfinished Portrait, we take a close look at the artist’s working methods and tools. We want to prove that approaching photography through the unique methods and materials offered by the medium allows us to better understand it. We try to analyse the results of the artist’s creative process – the photographic prints – from the point of view of how they were created. Such “morphology” of photography may become a starting point for a better understanding of Hartwig’s oeuvre, his influence on the Polish photographic milieu, links with the international photographic scene and, more broadly, with contemporary visual culture. For looking at many of Hartwig’s photographs today not only leads to the conclusion about their modern and topical form, but also demonstrates that, in a sense, they shaped the visual language which we use and in which we function.

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