rejuvenation

The classic Polish landscape photographer, Jan Bułhak, was a tireless promoter of the genre in its patriotic, even nationalist, version. Due to the fact that he made his works during a particularly tumultuous period, he used landscape photography as a purely political tool. His images of “homeland views” constituted a significant patriotic voice in the debate on Polish borders undergoing changes at that time. Bułhak’s Poland included both the Eastern Borderlands (Kresy Wschodnie) and the so-called western Regained Lands (Ziemie Odzyskane), together with a vast sea border in the north and wide mountain ranges in the south. In a 1938 book manifesto, entitled Fotografia Ojczysta (Native Photography), he revealed the creative philosophy of his photography, the glory of the homeland and in service to the nation. He also described the methods and techniques that constituted the ethos of a native photographer. One of the most absurd tips was the suggestion that clouds over Poland should be photographed in such way, as to give them full justice to their supposedly exceptional Polish features. An adequate epilogue to such a farce is the fact that, once Native Photography was reissued in 1950, Bułhak replaced all nationalist and romantically spirited images of meadows, villages and cemeteries of Vilnius with photographic tributes to the industrial achievements of communist Poland and the deeds of the Red Army. He quietly replaced “the nation” with “the working people” in the text. Rejuvenation is an act of ironic criticism of photography (and other forms of art) as art that is made for the nation’s glory; on the other hand, it is a gloomy reflection upon what was done to the Polish landscape after the democratic transformation. It was subjected to modular unification (by means of i.e. prefabricated materials such as setts), spatial segregation by fences, noise barriers, guard rails, landscape and architecture being turned into potential advertising spots for billboards. Poland, rebuilt under a sky of clouds and according to the raging capitalist logic, does deserve to be pictured as thus.