OD ZPAF / About the Association

The Lower Silesian division is one of the thirteen divisions that make up the Association of Polish Art Photographers ZPAF is the largest Polish organization of artists who express their creativity through photography. It cultivates the tradition of a diversity of artistic interests. The members of the association are artists spanning many generations, who pursue a variety of art forms – from classic art to avant-garde.

We pursue our statutory goals by inspiring and supporting the activities of all of our organizational units. We promote photography through art galleries, publications and books, exhibitions, competitions, open-air photography workshops, symposiums, and other cultural events.

ZPAF provides its members with legal advice and assistance in relation to their work, professional practice, and daily living. The association offers copyright management contracts and helps artists to find sponsors and patrons. It also submits applications for decorations and awards on behalf of the artists. To fulfill its statutory goals, the management boards of ZPAF divisions cooperate with state and local authorities, cultural institutions, and other artistic associations and social organizations.


A short insight into the history of art photography of the Lower Silesian Division of ZPAF / Andrzej Saj

The over-seventy-year history of the artistic achievements of photographers affiliated with the Lower Silesian ZPAF Division can be summarized by the most important aesthetic tendencies in their work, the dominant creative initiatives or other manifestations of attitudes demonstrated in selected time periods. Thus, the turning points that organize and introduce the history of local photographic work, will correspond to a number of consecutive long stretches of time dominated by a characteristic type of artistic expression or by a breakthrough in consciousness that was significant for that particular period. The first period covers the years from 1945 to the end of the 1950s and is marked by experiences related to the end of World War II and the forced repatriation of a great number of citizens (including photographers) from the Eastern borderlands of the Republic of Poland or other ruined post-war places in Poland to the Lower Silesian region (including the cities Wrocław and Jelenia Góra). The second important stage in the development of photography, characterized by the intensification of experiments with different media, is dated to the 1960s and 1970s, with 1957 being considered the defining moment (the year when the “Backyard” artistic group was established), and the December of 1981 being the conclusion when martial law was introduced in the country. The third period – the time of expression and expansion of the range of artistic manifestations – is date to the entire 1980s, i.e. until Poland regained its national identity in 1989. Finally, the fourth period – starting in the 1990s – was dominated by the pressure of digital photography, the expansion of new media and the possibilities offered by digital post-processing, as well as by commercial uses of photography.

In fact, one could say that the history of photography in Lower Silesia (including the work affiliated with the local ZPAF Division) began after the post-war resettlement of artists from former prominent cultural centers in the country, mostly from Lvov, Vilnius or the destroyed Warsaw. But this also means that these artists could continue their pre-war experiences and creative endeavors, which had a history of their own based on earlier achievements and aesthetic standards and interrupted by these tragic events. These continued trends undoubtedly included a fascination with the aesthetics of “native photography” by Jan Bulhak and references to pictorialism on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with the continuation of techniques for separating tones associated with the Lvov community and practiced by artists relocated to Wrocław, mainly by Witold Romer, who already at Wrocław University of Technology researched the possibilities of photographic isohelia and related techniques implemented around this idea. The inversions and solarizations by Bożena Michalik, isobroms by Henryk Derczyński, and isohelia by Kazimierz Czobaniuk created an atmosphere that fostered further experiments and research. The “Backyard” creative group founded in 1957 (Bożena Michalik, Wadim Jurkiewicz, Zbigniew Staniewski and Edmund Witecki) became famous for their radical, modern photographs and for promoting the aesthetics of abstract and structural concepts of photographic imaging. What deserves mention at this point is the independent attitude of Stefan Arczyński, whose photojournalism will serve as an expression of a characteristic realism in his presentation of the world (earlier he documented domestic and foreign events).

Avant-garde explorations in this area of artistic creativity clearly contributed to its continuation in the 1960s. This was pursued mainly by young artists, including personalities who emerged at that time, such as Zenon Harasym, and Zbigniew Sawicz or Czesław Chwiszczuk, Adam Lesisz, and Grzegorz Szustak, who belonged to student photography clubs at the time, later followed by, among others, Marek Łopata and Wacław Ropiecki. At the same time, some artists began to use photography to support creative projects characterized by a pro-conceptual approach, mainly students in PWSSP, where, on the initiative of Bronisław Kupiec, photojournalism classes inspired work in the spirit of neo-avant-garde experiments by people such as Natalia Lach, Michał Diament, Andrzej Lachowicz, or their students in the years that followed. In Wrocław, the artistic trend that developed under the slogan of conceptual art was pursued by those photographers who, operating at the interface of visual arts and photography, experimented in the 1970s with the use of photos for aesthetic tasks and for self-education purposes – which was the main focus of the so-called new media art movement. Of fundamental importance for the people involved in this movement were the manifestations of the Permafo gallery founded in 1970 (run by Andrzej Lachowicz in cooperation with Natalia Lach, Zbigniew Dłubak, and Antoni Dzieduszycki) and the later initiative of the Foto-Medium-Art gallery, managed by Jerzy Olek. The 1970s were therefore dominated by many artistic and theoretical events, and numerous symposia accompanied by collective exhibitions strengthened the position of such artists as Natalia LL (Lach), Andrzej Lachowicz and promoted the work of Alek Figura, Jacek Samotus and Jan Bortkiewicz, among others. This period of media experiments was interrupted by the introduction of martial law in 1981 at which point most institutions and galleries promoting photography shut down.

Artistic activities restarted in 1983. The traumatic period of martial law contributed to the reevaluation of creative concepts in the Wrocław community. The program of the F-M-A gallery started to include exhibitions that presented a different, non-conceptual point of view of art photography. The work of photographers such as Wojciech Zawadzki, Andrzej Jerzy Lech, Adam Lesisz, Jakub Byrczek (from Katowice) or Bogdan Konopka – presented in the F-M-A gallery – inspired the so-called elementary photography movement, i.e. photography that focuses on its photographic properties, uses conventional techniques, refers to narrative objectives and advertises its visual distinctiveness. On the basis of this movement, new centers of photography are formed, such the one in as Jelenia Góra (Wojciech Zawadzki, Ewa Andrzejewska, Janina Hobgarska, Marek Liksztet, Piotr Komorowski and others), which later become the main sources of this movement’s activities. At the same time, in the 1980s – when national exhibition programs are contested– an independent photographic documentation movement emerges and is presented in the works of the “Dementi” group which is established in 1982 (including Tomasz Kizny) and which reports events from the martial law period or later years and documents the lives of Siberian exiles. During this period activities are resumed by galleries and people operating under the auspices of the Church. A change from the avant-garde way of looking at the world to eschatological reflections and expressive content is also visible in the work of Natalia LL or Andrzej Lachowicz and many other authors from that period.

Then, in the early 1990s, after the political breakthrough in 1989, the entire artistic community of that time found themselves in a new situation; for photographers this meant, on the one hand, closer contacts with Western artists, which resulted in the organization of several consecutive “East–West Photographic Conferences” in Wrocław (year 1989–1997), and on the other hand, it led to changes resulting from local artists going abroad, which was usually preceded by an act of “breaking up” with the current program of photoelementarism that was promoted in Wrocław. The developing community of Jelenia Góra began to endorse the concept of “pure” photography or its aesthetic justification in the concept of the so-called photogenics. The 1996 exhibition titled “Closer to Photography” displayed collected works with photogenic features by authors not only from Lower Silesia, but also from other national centers that preferred “pure”, subjective documentary, which in a sense referred to German “visualism”, but had a clearly discernible characteristic aura signifying poetic content and melancholic landscapes. The 1990s and 2010s were clearly influenced by photogenic images on the one hand (for example the work by the Jelenia Góra community, but also works by Bogdan Konopka from the “Gray Views” series, or Andrzej Jerzy Lech from the “Swiss Calendar” series). The 21st century also brought a new rendition of the work and increased artistic activity of Natalia LL, as well as an increase in the number of exhibitions inspired by ZPAF. Due to the popularization of digital photography, new possibilities of computer manipulation emerged; apart from photo-documentary, many works used staging and formal transformations. There was more pressure on commercial and advertising uses of photography.

Due to the development of independent artistic education, many new members joined ZPAF, who explore different aspects of aesthetics and use various technical and formal solutions. Local universities also strengthened their positions, including the Academy of Fine Arts which introduced a new field of study – Photography and New Media – and the University of Wrocław, which introduced Documentary Photography. Among the most significant events in recent years are photography exhibitions of new media art by the graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in the “Made in Photo” series, as well as a series of regular thematic exhibitions, organized on the initiative of ZPAF (with AndrzejDudekDürer playing a major role in this endeavor), dedicated to current problems of contemporary photography, e.g. the “Confronting Place and Time”, the jubilee “Shape of the Present” (2012), “Idea-Matter. A different potential of photography” (2014), ”Metaphors of Reality” (2014) or the annual exhibitions of ZPAF members entitled “Durability and Transformation”. Moreover, for the 70th anniversary of ZPAF, the Lower Silesian District organized a large exhibition of over 170 works by 53 authors at the Wrocław Contemporary Museum. The exhibition was well received (with a record number of 420 attendees at the opening). The Artluk publishing house recognized it as one of the 15 best exhibitions in Poland.

The changes in the management and the program of the Wrocław photo gallery (“Romanesque House”) also resulted in many interesting exhibitions of works by national authors, including local photographers, and collective exhibitions of works by ZPAF members. The FOTO-GEN Gallery (new name) promotes the work of contemporary photographers by exhibiting a wide variety of works, both in the field of documentary and its subjective varieties, including those characterized by photogenic content, but also staged photographs, collages and photographic and media objects, i.e. forms that go beyond the flat surface of a photographic image and include the surrounding exhibition space. The history of photography in Lower Silesia is still in the making. It is becoming the domain of new members of the ZPAF Division, the young creators of the art of photography.


The Association of Polish Art Photographers / Adam Sobota

ZPAF holds a leading position among Polish photography associations and unites various trends. In their creative work, its members explore different avenues of photography as well as those forms of visual arts which use the tools of new media art. The drive to establish this type of organization emerged during the heyday of the amateur photo movement in late 19th century when its most ambitious representatives wanted to have the same status as artist practicing classical art forms. In 1929, the representatives of photographic societies decided to found the Polish Photo-Club, with Jan Bulhak as its president, which comprised the most prominent amateurs of photographic art, who called themselves “photography artists”. At that time the practice of photography was only officially registered as a craft. Only after World War II, on February 10, 1947, the state authorities granted rights to the members of the Polish Union of Photographers related to the practice of an artistic liberal profession (in 1952 the name was changed to the Association of Polish Art Photographers). The first president was Jan Bulhak, which followed the Polish Photo-Club tradition. Briefly put, the statutory objectives of the new artists’ trade union were to develop fine-art photography as a socially useful discipline of art and to represent the creative and professional interests of the members of ZPAF, including the protection of the freedom of creative expression.  The organization was founded by 20 people, including famous fine-art photographers (such as Jan Bulhak, Tadeusz Cyprian, Marian Dederko, Edward Hartwig, and Janina Mierzecka), representatives of the broadly understood profession, and visual artists interested in new media. Such a mix of people (soon joined by artists such as: Witold Romer, Aleksander Krzywoblocki, Zbigniew Dlubak, Jerzy Lewczynski, Zdzislaw Beksinski, and Bronisław Schlabs) produced a wide spectrum of creative work – from pictorialism, to photojournalism, to avant-garde concepts – which guaranteed dynamic development of the association.

In 1957, ZPAF had 219 members, in 1978 there were 407 members, and today it has over 700 members. The Management Board is located in Warsaw (since 1970 in its own headquarters with an art gallery and a library at Plac Zamkowy), but the structure of its local branches has changed several times. Over time, local branches were given separate legal personality; they are divisions (comprising at least ten members) and their regional offices. ZPAF members can be full or honorary members. To become a member the candidate must prove his or her proficiency in various genres of photography, document his or her artistic achievements and demonstrate knowledge of the theory and history of photography. In rate cases, people with significant artistic achievements were accepted on the basis of recommendations and invitations. This admission procedure was initially complicated because, among other things, photography was not taught at the academic level. Until the end of the 20th century, fine-art photographers in Poland, with few exceptions, were self-taught. Therefore, the problem of artistic education, in a broad sense, was constantly focusing the attention of the ZPAF authorities, who not only necessitated self-education, but also ran the College of Photography.

The activities of ZPAF were mainly focused on exhibitions. In the early years, these were mainly regional and national exhibitions held annually after struggling with the bureaucracy of socialist realism. Things recovered in 1957, when, among other things, international exhibitions started to take place and in 1959 the first post-war almanac of Polish photography was published, followed by other publications that summed up the successes of annual exhibitions. This type of activity was carried out regularly until the mid-1960s. Later the focus shifted to thematic and problem-focused exhibitions related to new trends in art and the activity of various communities. ZPAF also co-organized periodic art reviews, including: International Isohelia Exhibitions (Wrocław), Polish Landscape Biennale (Kielce), Homo (Legnica), and Photographic Confrontations (Gorzów Wielkopolski). In the 1970s, the events were more significant and inlcuded individual exhibitions and activities of artistic groups which concentrated on a specific program or were related to art galleries of individual authors that were endorsed by ZPAF (including The Small Gallery in Warsaw, the Foto-Medium-Art gallery in Wrocław or the GN gallery in Gdańsk). Neo-avant-garde tendencies, which were followed by a significant proportion of ZPAF members, resulted in excellent displays of Polish contemporary art, such as:  Subjectivity Photography (1968), Photographers Explorers (1971), or Polish intermedia photography of the 1980s. (1988). At the same time, exhibitions of classic forms of photography, photojournalism and functional photography were held under the aegis of ZPAF. The high rank of this photographic community in the art world was ensured by the two main bodies of ZPAF, its Management Board and Artistic Council, which accepted the pluralist nature of photography.

An important initiative of ZPAF members was the establishment of the Scientific Photography Section at the turn of 1966/67. The leading role in this respect was played by Janina Mierzecka, who collaborated with Witold Romer and Bronisław Kupiec, whose interests also combined art and science. In January 1960 in Wrocław, they organized the 1st National Exhibition of Photography in the Service of Science and Technology, as well as numerous symposia on this subject in Wrocław and Warsaw in the years that followed.

There was also fruitful cooperation between ZPAF and other photo organizations in Poland, from which ZPAF members originated. This concerned not only the organization of exhibitions, but also open-air events and symposia, which played a very important role for Polish photography and strengthened the intellectual potential of this community. In the last decades of the 20th century, representatives of alternative culture and innovators of new media art joined ZPAF. The currently available study programs in the field of photography and multimedia offered by art academies and universities serve as a resource base that fuels the future functioning of ZPAF.

Translated by Dominik Rozwadowski