The article pertains to the relationship between photography, modernism and historiography. It's a proposal of a different reading of architecture photography which is treated as a posed 'portrait' of modernism with the purpose of realisation an adequately designed representation of modernist architecture. The stimulus was provided by the photographs by Czeslaw Olszewski (1894-1969) from the 1930s taken for the leading Polish periodicals of the interwar period: 'Architektura i Budownictwo' (Architecture and Building Trade), 'Arkady' (Arcades). In their 'foreground' these photographs documented an international style present in Poland, the realisations of young Warsaw architects from among 'the generation of ca. 1900' and the peers of the photographer, so it is a sort of a generation's manifesto. The authoress, however, points out the problematics of the broad term of a 'documentation photography', the apparent neutrality and false 'objectivity' of camera (photography); she refers to the model of the Allan Sekula's archives as a 'territory of images' which reveals a new sense of a 'document' as a memory relic. Black-and-white photograms are the 'images' of architecture that imitate the ways of representation known from the paintings of the 1930s, and as representations they derivatively aestheticize this architecture. The fact that this is monochromatic photography allows to inscribe it into the project of creation of the image of modernism seen as the culture of 'white walls'. Ideologists of modernism made use of the 'lack of colour' of photography to create an image (definition) of modernist architecture as an abstract 'play of white forms in the light'. In this way one of the modernist dogmas was realised pertaining to: 1) the question of space, and 2) the colour and/or lack of it as a sign and reference. Thus, modernism identified with the culture of 'white architecture' situated thereby on the plane of designed by modernism historiographic tradition that reveals here its feature: as an aesthetic construct. The authoress recalls the new analyses which criticise modernism as the 'culture of white wall' and disclose the relationship between the 'white wall' and patriarchal scenario with the purpose to create the avant-garde art as a 'male' area (gender theories, psychosexual basis of architecture, postcolonial theory interpreting a 'culture of whiteness' as domination of the white race etc.). At the end of the text there is presented the relationship between the 'beautiful portraits' of avant-garde architecture and 'rhetoric of wandering' and narration: the buildings in the photographs taken by Olszewski had been build before 1939 and were either destroyed during the WWII or devastated in the communist times. For this reason the authoress interprets them like the pictures with typical utopian scheme: a convention of journey and reference to nostalgia, which inscribes them into the discourse upon memory and history.
M. Lesniakowska, Instytut Sztuki PAN, ul. Dluga 26/28, 00-950 Warszawa, Poland
Publication order reference
CEJSH db identifier