Wojciech Nowicki: Right Next Door
Krakowska 46 Krakow
16.05 - 30.08.2015
Photographic representations of suffering and warfare have always received ample consideration. Almost from the very beginning, as soon as the technology allowed for it, photography was considered an ideal tool for the documentation of various types of conflict. One need only look at Roger Fenton’s iconic 1855 photograph Valley of the Shadow of Death: a picturesque, allegorical depiction of a ravine dotted with cannonballs, the scene possibly embellished by the photographer, who is thought to have planted several of the cannonballs himself.
Here, death arrives absent the bodies, even though the Crimean War, which Fenton had been dispatched to chronicle, claimed half a million lives. The aesthetic aim of the photographer—to convey the somber beauty of a war-torn landscape while concealing all traces of carnage—amounts to a form of Victorian censorship, a precedent which persists to this day: battlefield corpses are routinely photographed in a prone position, their facial features obscured, while casualties from our own ranks are simply never shown at all, or else wait to be shown, but only once the most viscerally intense emotions have subsided.
This story can be told in another way, via examination of an archive originating at the Deutsches Ausland-Institut in Stuttgart, a segment of which is now stored within the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. Though undertaking their work during World War I, the archive’s curators appear to have been either oblivious or wholly indifferent to the war’s reach. The Krakow-based portion of the archive is composed of photographs documenting the contemporaneous culture of then-partitioned Poland, with subsets dedicated to urban and rural inhabitants, markets, Jewish neighborhoods, buildings, implements, and so on. Almost entirely absent from the collection are photographs depicting the ravages of war; there are no images of the maimed or dead to be found here, though World War I’s death toll would eventually exceed sixteen million.
This creates an idyllic though—from a historical point of view—false portrait of a patch of the planet at a time of global conflict. One can certainly justify or excuse such a selective approach; but we should ask ourselves why during times of war, photography so often remains blind to the conflict, its gaze conspicuously directed just off to the side, and not where it should be.
Curator: Wojciech Nowicki
Wojciech Nowicki, curator of photo exhibitions, writer, journalist, member of the Krakow Photomonth board, co-founder of the Imago Mundi photography foundation. Publications include Dno oka. Eseje o fotografii [Bottom of the eye. Essays about photography] and Salki [Rooms]. The author of monographic photo books devoted to outstanding photographers: Jerzy Lewczyński. Memory of the Image and Niepokoje Wilhelma von Blandowskiego [Wilhelm von Blandowski’s anxieties]. As a curator he often creates visual essays, most recently Radiation, on the role of text in photography, at Krakow Photomonth 2014. He has also staged monographic exhibitions of artists including Jerzy Lewczyński, Michał Greim, and Wilhelm von Blandowski, and numerous Krakow Photomonth exhibitions.