Erazm Ciołek Papers at the Hoover Institution
Stanford Galvez Mall 434, United States of America 94305
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Name of collection
- Ciolek (Erazm) papers
Provenance and cultural activities
The Hoover Institution gained Erazm Ciołek's papers thanks to Maciej Siekierski - a curator of the European Collections. An important goal of the Institution is to gather the historical materials which document social changes in the Eastern Block. Thus, the collection of Erazm Ciołek fitted perfectly the archive’s profile, as Ciołek was one of the most important Polish engaged photographers who in the 1980s photographed the workers’ strikes and the first partially-free elections.Ciołek was a photojournalist, mostly known for his photographs of the Solidarity movement and the democratic opposition of the 1980s. A sociologist by training, Ciołek began a photographer career in the 1950s. He worked for major Polish newspapers, magazines and the Polish Press Agency. His first encounter with opposition to the communist regime took place in March 1968 when he photographed striking students and was briefly detained by police. Ciołek also recorded social phenomena hidden under state socialism such as drug addiction, photographed prominent Polish visual artists and their works, and reported from abroad.
Prior to 1980, Ciołek was neither a member of opposition nor politically active. But his spontaneous trip to the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk in August 1980 was a game changer. Ciołek witnessed and documented the famous workers' strike and, by extension, the beginnings of the Solidarity movement. His photographs of striking workers, their families, and bystanders are among the most iconic images of contemporary Polish history, demonstrating the profound enthusiasm, spiritual awakening and concerns of Polish society in the revolutionary summer of 1980. Later, Ciołek turned his camera lens at the martial law period in Poland and underground Solidarity, photographing anti-communist demonstrations and protests, Pope John Paul II's trips to Poland, violations of human rights, and victims of police violence. His photographic coverage of the funerals of Reverend Jerzy Popiełuszko and Grzegorz Przemyk, both murdered by communist police in 1984 and 1983 respectively, showed the power of peaceful resistance against the General Wojciech Jaruzelski regime, countered the regime's propaganda, and made impact on the Polish public. Both photo reports were turned into exhibitions and put on display in churches, private galleries and community centres. Ciołek was the only photographer to regularly attend and document illegal meetings of opposition leaders. He also organized the photography service for independent media and underground publishing houses. In 1988, he went back to Gdańsk where he captured in his photography the strikes that paved the way to the negotiations between Solidarity and the party regime. Ciołek also documented the Polish Round Table Talks and the partly free elections of 4 June 1989 that led to the victory of Solidarity and the creation of the Tadeusz Mazowiecki cabinet, the first non-communist government in Eastern Europe since communist takeovers in the 1940s. More than just a witness, Ciołek played a prominent role in the 1989 election campaign by taking photographs of Solidarity candidates with Lech Wałęsa that were later used as electoral posters.
Ciołek's photographs of the 1980 strike in the Lenin Shipyard were displayed in Polish galleries, churches, factories and other public spaces before traveling to Belgrade, London and Stockholm. During the 1980s, Ciołek was awarded numerous prizes by independent cultural institutions and associations. After 1989, he received highest state awards. He is justly credited for promoting Solidarity worldwide, immortalizing the most dramatic events in the movement's history, and contributing to its iconography. His famous images of Poland in the 1980s have been extensively used in international media and publishing.
Description of content
The Erazm Ciołek Papers collection contains nearly 500 photos divided into 26 folders that document specific historical and political events witnessed and recorded by the photographer. Ciołek's photos document the history of the Solidarity movement, democratic opposition, and Polish society from the workers' strike in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk in August 1980 to the end of the communist rule in Poland in 1989. In his photography, Ciołek paid equal attention to common people and opposition leaders, street scenes and official and unofficial meetings behind the closed doors. None of these photos were staged or choreographed. Ciołek's works were published in Poland and worldwide and used in exhibitions, documentary films, mass media and education. The collection also includes alternative takes that were not used for publications. In short, it is an invaluable visual collection documenting the turbulent and pivotal decade of the 1980s.
- photos: 100-499
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
- Siekierski, Maciej
Date of founding
Place of founding
Warszawa, Warsaw, Poland
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Kunicki, Mikołaj
Siekierski, Maciej, interview by Kunicki, Mikołaj, July 25, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection