"I can't believe these are my photographs". 50 years of Chris Niedenthal's work on display in Warsaw

TVN24 News in English, PAP
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PAP/Mateusz MarekThe opening ceremony of Chris Niedenthal's photographs exhibition at the History Meeting House in Warsaw

"I can't believe these are my photographs. Some of them were taken so long ago that I don't even recognise them," acclaimed photojournalist Chris Niedenthal said during the opening night of an exhibition of his works in Warsaw's History Meeting House. The exhibition marks 50 years of Niedenthal's career as a photojournalist.

Opened on Thursday (October 13) in Warsaw's History Meeting House (DSH), the Niedenthal exhibition shows both less known photographs and some iconic shots essential to tell the story of this legendary photographer. Among many artefacts the visitors will find original covers of the Time magazine, articles with photos, envelopes addressed to foreign editors, and cameras used by Chris Niedenthal.

"Frankly speaking, I've never thought about it - when I came to Poland for a few months in May of 1973, because I wasn't going to stay for good - that I would stay that long. I didn't think about it but it just happened, because Poland fascinated me, just like everything that was happening in Poland," Chris Niedenthal said during the opening ceremony.

""I can't believe these are my photographs. Some of them were taken so long ago that I don't even recognise them," he added.

Exhibition of Chris Niedenthal's photos at the History Meeting HousePAP

For the first time

"We meet today because for the first time - as it turns out - a panoramic exhibition is being opened, presenting the legacy of Chris Niedenthal's superprolific life as a photojournalist. It turns out there has never been an exhibition like this before," DSH director Piotr Jakubowski said during the event.

He added that Niedenthal had captured thousands of images depicting the history of the last 50 years. "... not only Polish history in various takes, but also history of the world". "This activity of Chris Niedenthal is an integral element of visual memory of the past decades," Jakubowski said.

A big challenge

"Choosing only 200 pictures from such a vast archive was a big challenge as it is very difficult to prepare an exhibition of a photographer whose photographs have been shown at exhibitions and published in magazines for years. We wanted to surprise him, to come up with something that had not been done before," the exhibition curators Anna Brzezińska and Katarzyna Puchalska said.

"And it turned out that our very idea to prepare an exhibition that covers Chris Niedenthal’s photojournalistic achievements from the past fifty years is something that no one has ever done before" - the curators explained.

Thursday's opening was marked by a concert of Sir Hardly Nobody featuring Chris Niedenthal (drums), Andrzej Werno (guitar/vocals) and Andrzej Narożański (bass/vocals).

Exhibition of Chris Niedenthal's photos at the History Meeting HousePAP

Chris Niedenthal

"Chris Niedenthal was born in 1950 in London, to a family of Polish emigrants. He got his first camera from his parents when he was 11 as a gift for passing an exam with flying colours. Thanks to his two uncles in Poland, whom he visited for holidays, he developed a passion for photography. One of them showed him how to develop pictures in an amateur darkroom created in the bathroom, the other bought him a camera – a Zenit 3M" - the DSH said in a brief biographical note at its webiste.

While studying at the London College of Printing, Niedenthal found a style of taking pictures on which he would later focus. He wanted to document reality, rather than create a new one. "I was interested in the press and photojournalism. It was hard to get it out of my head. In college, we were taught advertising and portrait photography, but I always did everything from a reporter’s perspective," Niedenthal said.

"At the age of 23 he came to Poland for a few months and decided to stay here for good. He worked as a press photojournalist, initially as a freelancer documenting Poland in the Gierek’s era. In 1974-1978 his works were published in the German weekly Stern and monthly Geo, as well in the Swedish newspaper Expressen," we read at the DSH website.

Exhibition of Chris Niedenthal's photos at the History Meeting HousePAP

"In 1978, he began a five-year cooperation with Newsweek. His first reportage depicted “illegal”, makeshift churches, built in the People’s Republic of Poland despite the ban imposed by the state authorities. That same year, shortly after the election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope, Chris Niedenthal was the first photojournalist to report from his hometown, Wadowice. In the following year, during the Pope’s pilgrimage to Poland, he took a photo that made it to the cover of Newsweek," we read.

DSH added that Niedenthal, together with an English journalist Michael Dobbs, had also been the first foreign photojournalist allowed to enter Gdańsk Shipyard during the 1980 strike.

"On December 14, 1981, one day after the imposition of martial law, he took one of his most iconic shots: a photo of an armoured personnel carrier with the Moscow Cinema and a banner advertising Apocalypse Now in the background," the DSH reminded.

"Chris Niedenthal was mostly interested in everyday life and ordinary people and such photos are a great and fascinating part of his archive. … He travelled around Poland with his camera and captured ordinary situations – yet he saw something unusual in them. … The foreign correspondent’s press card opened many doors for him and allowed him to take photos that few could take at that time. … Cooperation with Newsweek and then with Time was a huge step in his career, and a one that gave him unlimited access to high-quality western colour films (practically unavailable to Polish photographers at that time) and allowed him to travel. Thanks to this, his archive contains a unique photojournalistic record of Poland and Eastern European countries of the 1970s and 1980s" - the exhibition curators emphasised.

Chris NiedenthalTVN24

"In 1984 Newsweek sent Niedenthal on his first assignment outside Poland: to Budapest, Prague and Moscow. In January 1985, he became Time’s photojournalist for Eastern Europe. Most often he photographed in Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, and Sofia. He received a World Press Photo in the 'People in the News' category for his Time magazine cover photo of János Kádár (issue published on August 11, 1986)" - DSH wrote.

"In the following year, he moved with his family to Vienna, where Time has its office for Eastern Europe, and lived there for over six years. He returned to Poland again in 1993. Together with Włodzimierz (Woody) Ochnio, they ran the Magic Media advertising photography studio for six years. He then authored several socially involved exhibition projects: Taboo. Portraits of the Unportrayed and PracujeMy – about children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities," we read further.

In 2001 - DSH wrote - together with Tadeusz Rolke, Niedenthal created the Neighbour exhibition (about Polish-Jewish relations and tolerance towards the "other"), which was shown in the Zachęta Gallery of Art. In February 2008, he presented Letters to My Son, an exhibition featuring portraits of mothers and their children with Down syndrome.

After 2015, he returned to photojournalism. "This profession is, in a sense, a mission. Since I have photographed so much of our history over the years, I think that I can’t stop now – I have to document the condition in which we have found ourselves today. In the former Polish regime, I did it for very important world magazines; now I do it for myself," he said.


Źródło: TVN24 News in English, PAP

Źródło zdjęcia głównego: PAP

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