ul. Jaskółcza 1, GDAŃSK - DOLNE MIASTO
21 JUNE – 18 AUGUST 2013
Opening: 21 June 2013, 6 pm
Meeting with Chris Niedenthal hosted by Adam Mazur: 21.06.2013, 7:00 pm

Curator: Anna Szynwelska
Cooperation: Adam Mazur
In 2013 it will have been 40 years since Chris Niedenthal came to Poland as a young photographer in order to work as a foreign correspondent. He grew so fond of the land of his parents that he stayed here until today, becoming one of the most important documentary photographers of the political transformations, everyday life, elements of communist reality and images of ordinary people.
In 1978 he began working for Newsweek and was the magazine's permanent photographer during the martial law period. He also cooperated with magazines such as Time, Der Spiegel and Forbes. His works won numerous prizes and in 1986 he received the prestigious World Press Photo award for his portrait of János Kádár, secretary general of the Hungarian communist party, which made it to the cover of Time magazine.
The exhibition at Łaźnia CCA focuses on the earliest stage of Niedenthal’s photographic work in Poland: the 1970s and 1980s. However, rather than showcasing his iconic images of martial law and political events, it presents ordinary scenes and the struggle with everyday challenges posed by life in communist Poland, which must have seemed particularly absurd, strange or dramatic to a British photojournalist. Niedenthal always tried to be present wherever anything important happened, but he also meticulously documented the minute details of the Polish landscape and the hilarious products of the officialese employed by communist authorities – the very stuff of Stanisław Bareja’s cult comedies. As he himself admits, his greatest regret is not having photographed a beautiful billboard he saw along a road somewhere in eastern Poland in the 1970s,  advising farmers not to wash their eggs (unintentionally referring to the colloquial Polish term for testicles). Niedenthal is one of the few photographers who know how to convey one of the greatest advantages of photography: the possibility to capture a specific, decisive moment, the essence of a scene. Photographs collected at the exhibition at Łaźnia CCA are not only a unique document of the past and changes in the culture and everyday life of the Poles, but also an example of such first-class “quintessential” documentary and press photography, devoid of superfluous embellishments and effects.  
On account of its grotesque nature, the People’s Republic of Poland was a paradise for many photographers – all the more so for a novice from the so-called West who was brought up in a different reality. I would like to treat the photographs exhibited here as my personal and very private contribution to documenting those dreary years. Any sentimental overtones one might sense here do not refer to the system, but to people. I do not want my photographs to incite unhealthy nostalgia, because the People’s Republic of Poland is not worth it. Still, I believe it is worthwhile to show these images: people from my generation will see them as souvenirs of their youth, while younger viewers might catch a glimpse of the world of their parents and grandparents.
Other well-known photographs from those years are usually black-and-white. I had the luck to take photographs on Western (as they used to be called) colour films. Now I am pleased to see these exhibition prints made on a fantastic modern paper, which we did not even dream about then. I think this is why my photographs now show exactly what I had in front of my eyes several dozen years ago. Neutrally coloured when the subject demanded it, cold or more saturated if the need arose – but always natural.
Chris Niedenthal (April 2013)
Chris Niedenthal was born in 1950 in London to a Polish family. Following his studies at the London College of Printing, he came to Poland in 1973 for a few months and stayed here until today. At the beginning of the 1980s he cooperated with the American edition of the Newsweek weekly, and since 1985 – with Time magazine. The latter commissioned him to prepare picture stories of Eastern and Central Europe, the Soviet Union and the Balkans. In 1980, he witnessed the birth of the free trade union “Solidarity” during the strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk; in December 1981 – the introduction of martial law in Poland, and he then documented the fall of communism in 1989. He won an award at the 1986 World Press Photo competition for his portrait of the Hungarian leader, János Kádár. For a few years he also worked for the German weekly Der Spiegel. Three albums of his photographs have been published in Poland: People’s Republic of Poland. Props (BOSZ 2004), 13/12. Poland under Martial Law (Edipresse 2006) and In Your Face. Images of the Recent Past (edition.fotoTAPETA 2011). In recent years, his work included a series of photographs of mentally handicapped children, which he exhibited in many cities in Poland and abroad (e.g. Taboo. Portraits of the Unportrayed; We are Working; Letters to My Son). He recently described his experience as a photographer in the autobiographical book Profession: Photographer (Wydawnictwo Marginesy, Warsaw 2011).
The photographs shown at the exhibition have been printed on Ilford Galerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk paper thanks to the support of Medikon Polska Sp. z o.o., the sole representative of Ilford in Poland
Special thanks to FORUM Polska Agencja Fotografów sp. z. o.o.
photos:Chris Niedenthal 
Municipal Institution of Culture