02
Aug
09

Book: ‘Negatives Are To Be Stored’ photographs by Stefania Gurdowa

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The presence of these photographs marks your consciousness indelibly, for the artist has made marks that cannot easily be removed. MB.

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd from the series 'Negatives Are To Be Stored'

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd from the series 'Negatives Are To Be Stored'

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“Eleven years ago, in the attic of a tenement house in the town of Debica, more than 1,000 damaged glass negative plates were discovered. Most of them depicted expressive portraits of anonymous individuals who lived in the neighborhood during the 20s and 30s.

At first sight, we could guess hardly anything about the author of the plates, although her name appeared on them. But our deepening research shed light upon someone extraordinary for her time: an independent, gifted woman of consequence whose workshops existed far away from the grand cultural capitals, and whose art lay in taking orderly portraits of her neighbours: shopkeepers, craftsmen, peasants, priests and Jews.

Stefania Gurdowa (née Czerny) was born in Bochnia in 1888. Her father was the bandmaster of a salt-mine orchestra. She herself played the zither. She gained her photographic education in Bochnia, and then in Lwow (Lemberg). From 1921 to 1937 she ran her own photographic workshop in Debica (and established branches in Mielec and Ropczyce for a time). It was unusual for a woman to run a business like hers in this era, yet it appears Gurdowa also hired a number of employees – Feliks Adam Czelny among them, a man who found fame after 1945, when he published a documentary report on the ruined city of Wroclaw.

Stefania and Kazimierz Gurda divorced, and from her home in Debica, the photographer took only her daughter, Zosia – and the piano. In the late 30s she settled in Silesia. Under Nazi occupation her business was taken over by the Germans, and she found herself a paid worker in her own workshop.

After the end of the war, Zosia migrated to France. Stefania Gurdowa decided to stay in Poland, and once more she started all over again – this time in Lodygowice, near Zywiec. She took care of her granddaughter, Basia for some years, until the girl was reunited with her mother in France. And she established yet another photographic workshop. Her former clients remember that there were always fresh flowers in her chilly rented flat-and-atelier – as well as a permanent Christmas tree!

Gurdowa, the distinguished artist, died in 1968. Her apartment was cleaned after she passed away, and her immense photographic archive was disposed of and lost. Only a fragment of her art endures, together with a question without an answer: who hid a collection of glass plates behind a wall in the attic of her workshop in Debica? Perhaps it was her own decision to preserve them this way. As a responsible professional, she must have been aware of the rule that “negatives are to be stored.”

Agnieszka Sabor

Text from the Lens Culture website

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd from the series 'Negatives Are To Be Stored'

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd from the series 'Negatives Are To Be Stored'

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd from the series 'Negatives Are To Be Stored'

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Stefania Gurdowa. 'Untitled' nd from the series 'Negatives Are To Be Stored'

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All images by Stefania Gurdowa from the series ‘Negatives Are To Be Stored’.
All images © Imago Mundi

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‘Klisze przechowuje sie’ (Negatives are to be stored).
Photographs by Stefania Gurdowa.
Text by Jerzy Lewczynski and Dariusz Czaja
Hardcover: 218 pages
22 x 28.5cm.

Publisher: Fundacja Imago Mundi / Muzeum Etnograficzne w Krakowie.
ISBN 978-83-925914-4-3

Book available from photo-eye.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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