Haunting Legacies: Family and Archival Photographs in Aleksandra Garlicka’s Taxonomy of Polish Society (1985–95)
This article expands knowledge about photography’s participation in pro-democratic socio-political processes in the years leading to the demise of the communist Polish People’s Republic and during the creation of the post-communist Third Republic of Poland. Scholarship on photography in Poland’s late-communist period of the 1980s tends to focus on the work of politically critical art photographers. It looks especially at practitioners who denounced state museums and galleries in protest at the government’s repression of human rights and political diversity. Scholarship on photography in Poland’s post-communist era of the early 1990s usually persists in prioritizing the study of artistic photographs, exploring how the new reality in the country diversified their subject matter, style, and political orientation. In this article we shift attention towards photographic exhibitions that were installed in Poland’s formal cultural institutions in the late 1980s, and we consider uses of non-artistic photographs in the country’s public sphere of the late-communist and early post-communist periods alike. To do so, we introduce the work of historian and curator Aleksandra Garlicka, analyzing five exhibitions she organized between 1985 and 1995. In all of these, Garlicka employed archival photographs to access histories of Polish society that the communist state had striven to repress. Yet she also called on members of the public to share with her their family photographs in order to deepen the scope of her endeavor. Drawing on archival sources, interviews, and Polish literature from the period in question, we demonstrate how Garlicka deployed these photographs to promote political change in one of Poland’s most turbulent historical moments of the twentieth century. Also considering the reception and impact of her curated shows, we argue that, in Garlicka’s hands, the display of photographs in Poland’s dominant exhibition spaces challenged communist ideology and helped the Poles to come to terms with its legacies.
We would like to thank vice president of Poland’s Association of Historians of Photography Barbara Kosińska and photographer Lech Charewicz for assisting us in reconstructing Garlicka’s professional biography, academic interests, and intellectual aspirations. We would also like to express our gratitude to Sebastian Madejski (Department of Documentation, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art), Renata Słoma (Department of Iconographic Collections, the National Library in Warsaw), and Mariusz Walczak (Department of Copyrights, the National Library in Warsaw) for helping us obtain copies of the images included in the article and secure permissions to reproduce them.
Citation : Pasternak, G. and Marta Z. (2019) Haunting Legacies: Family and Archival Photographs in Aleksandra Garlicka’s Taxonomy of Polish Society (1985–95). Photography & Culture, Special Issue: Photography in Transitioning European Communist and Post-communist Histories, edited by Gil Pasternak.
Research Institute : Media Discourse Centre (MDC)
Peer Reviewed : Yes
- School of Humanities