Collection of Association of Documentalists "The Road"
Warszawa Marszałkowska 140, Poland
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Name of collection
- Association of Documentalists "The Road"
Provenance and cultural activities
The collection was started with the need to preserve and promote the legacy of Polish journalists and photographers who documented the social, cultural and political reality in socialist times. The members of the Association "The Road" decided to run an independent association aiming to display their works which had not been presented to open public before. They wanted to show the everyday life of peasants, workers and intelligentsia in Poland on the photographs which were not shown or published due to press censorship (official censorship or self-control of the editors who decided not to publish certain materials).
The collection consists of photographs taken from the early 1970s onwards, mainly documenting everyday life of various social groups. Their collectors considered them worth displaying and promoting as they give a vivid image of the socialist society, which is not intertwined with current politics or post-factum interpretations. The documentalists, as they chose to call themselves, take pride in their work and the fact that the photographs are not only technically interesting, but foremost they give insight into the reality of average people in different social settings. They were also critical of the official success propaganda as they showed the socialist reality without the hyper-optimistic lens of the “prosperity” or “progress” narrative.
Parts of the photographs were already published in official magazines such as “ITD magazyn studencki”, “Razem” or “Polityka” weekly, but most of them remained in private archives of each journalist. The Association aims at organizing exhibitions, managing new photographic projects and digitalising the existing private collections.
The photographers-members of the „Droga” („The Road”) Association had the chance to publish their works in the official, yet directed to more educated, upper and middle class readers, magazines published in the socialist times in Poland.
Razem – (meaning in Polish „together”) - was a weekly magazine popular among youth and students. It closed down in 1989 as it could no longer withstand competition in showing „modernity” and „youth culture” with new, Western-inspired media. In the magazine one could find short novels, articles about popular culture (especially Western pop music), music charts from different radio broadcasts, posters with sportsmen and artists, interviews with youth celebrities, psychological advices and trivia. „Razem” was explicitly presented as a „youth cultural magazine” and apart from one-two more serious article per volume, it did not touch the political culture of socialist times. The photographers contributed with articles and photos concerning everyday life and describing Polish society with a special interest in hopes, dreams, and problems of young Poles.
„Polityka” („Politics”) - is one of the most renowned Polish weeklies. Its establishment in the beginning of 1957 was one of the Gomułka's (First Secretary of Polish United Workers' Party) moves in order to bring counter-proposition to new free press emerging after Stalinist Thaw. In the first years of its presence on Polish media market, „Polityka” was not widely-read as it was (rightly) seen as a sheer propaganda medium of Polish United Workers' Party. The magazine gained more character and independence in the beginning of 1960s' with the new editor-in-chief and new journalists and writers joining their editorial office. In the 70's and 80's it was the source of most critical non-fiction writings. Photographs often complemented the texts and showed the rough reality of Polish real socialism. The chief-editor of "Polityka" maneuvered between the official narrative and the criticism of socialist reality. He commissioned articles and photographs on important social and political topics, trying not to omit the core interest of the public.
In the 2000s' the members of the Association "The Road" decided to create the collection as they felt that their work is not sufficiently represented and managed by the Association of Polish Art Photographers, older and more established organization. The Association of Polish Art Photographers concentrated on networking initiatives and did not aim at using more modern means of disseminating promoting the works of photographers; it contented itself with duration, not action, according to some photographers.
The Association "The Road" was also meant to be a platform of support for the milieu of photographers who, due to the collapse of state-funded magazines and revolution on the press market after 1989, found themselves in a precarious position, without stable contracts with the publishers and editors.
Description of content
The collection of photographs managed by the Association of Documentalists "The Road" shows everyday life of rural Poland, in workers' milieu and other rarely represented spheres of social life. Part of the collection has never been displayed before due to censorship regime, the other part was presented in official press and can be perceived as a mean to include narratives and representations different from state propaganda, undermining the propaganda-led image of peasantry or working class in socialist state.
The legacy of photographers associated in "The Road" is very ambiguous. From one side it is a part of visual representation of reality presented in the official and widely distributed press. However, from another side, part of every photographic cycle was not displayed as it broke the acceptable honesty and aesthetics of socialist media. In a way photographers acted in a two-fold manner: they documented the reality of visited areas and social milieus, but were not able to show everything they wanted to. As a strategy some of them chose to "do their job", even with the bitter awareness that part of their photographs will not be displayed in public due to censorship. This can be interpreted as a resistance and a way to preserve their freedom and dignity. It was also a part of opposition to document the reality in the socialism, bearing in mind that a part of those will not be available to public. In the same time, the activities of photographers shows that the lines between openly shown opposition, accommodation, and subjection are often blurred when it comes to post-factum interpretations.
Contemporary activity of the Association aims to show the unexpected beauty and ambiguity of what has been remembered as a grey and inhuman period in Poland's recent history. Members of the Association also want to show the craftsmanship of Polish photographers, their ability to see and grasp details of everyday resistance and struggle for dignity of various groups.
- photos: 1000-
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Date of founding
Place of founding
Warszawa Marszałkowska 140, Poland
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Important events in the history of the collection
- all closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Gospodarczyk, Hanna
Anderman, Hanna, interview by Gospodarczyk, Hanna , October 10, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection