Chrząszczowa’s photographs show the war-ravaged Warsaw coming back to life as vendors take to the streets again and small businesses spring up. The photographer documents makeshift stalls built with odd materials such as flagstones or woven bread baskets, a small sweet shop by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a mural painting advertising the services of the Diana public bath. Some of the photographs from the collection were taken by Chrząszczowa during her joint trips around the ruined city with another important woman photographer, Zofia Chomętowska.
The downtown of Danzig/Gdańsk was destroyed in 90 percent during the war, partly by air raids and bombardment, partly as a result of demolitions carried out by the Red Army after capturing the city. Chrząszczowa photographed the ruins of the city’s prominent sites and historical buildings: the Wharf Crane, the Granary Island, St. Mary’s Church, the town hall, and the Long Market. She was taking her pictures at a time of a heated debate over the reconstruction of Gdańsk’s downtown: a disavowal of the German architectural tradition and attempts to introduce Polish elements instead. In an atmosphere of powerful pro-Polish propaganda, German signs and signboards were being replaced by Polish ones. Chrząszczowa captured the moment and its mood in a photo showing the painted sign of the Restaurant zum Grünen Gewölbe with an added inscription, ‘Taken over by a Polish repatriate’.
Documenting pre- and postwar Warsaw, Maria Chrząszczowa is not only interested in ruins and construction sites. Concerning rebuilding and new quality of life in Poland, in her photographs Chrząszczowa presents the complete spectrum of social life occurrences. There are workers, people becoming more “culturalized” and people during leisure activities; scouts among tree-covered hills, family in the countryside, women working in a glassware factory, piano concert or schoolchildren during school ceremonies. Among chosen shots, it is impossible though to find propaganda aesthetics. This only proves that Chrząszczowa was concentrated on man as a subject, not as an object used for good composition.
Another subject of Maria Chrząszczowa’s work is a summer camp organized by Polish Volleyball Association in a Kashubian village, Chmielno. In a rural reportage on leisure time among lakes of Kashubian Landscape Park, she concentrates not only on leisure and recreation, but also on picturesque paysages.
Chrząszczowa’s photographs from the years 1961-1972 serve as a review of Warsaw’s new architecture, but her documentation of recently completed residential developments, shops or thoroughfares avoids socialist production-style aesthetics – there are no portraits of muscular workers looking boldly into the future here. It is with the same attention that Chrząszczowa portrays the brand-new Supersam megastore in downtown Warsaw and a modest WSS Społem cooperative outlet in the suburb of Wólka Węglowa.
Chrząszczowa documented Poland’s postwar reconstruction, with a large number of photographs showing the so called Regained Territories: Wrocław, Kłodzko, Polanica Zdrój and Gdańsk. Though the effort meant an intense Polonization of the area, the images retain a propaganda-free character. In later years, Chrząszczowa documented holiday resorts such as Nieporęt or Lanckorona. She also took a series of documentary photographs for Witold Krassowski’s seminal book, Wooden Architecture in Poland (1961).
Chrząszczowa took most of her landscape photographs during private walks and excursions: in Konstancin, where she lived until the 1960s, in Warsaw, and on trips to Lower Silesia and Masuria. Of particular interest among these images of lakes, rivers and forests are the winter photographs of the Vistula and Jeziorka rivers.
Chrząszczowa photographed works of handicraft for Warsaw’s Institute of Industrial Design (IWP). She arranged the items on a neutral background in a manner typical for catalogue photos. As part of the same project, but for her own purposes, she also documented old cast-iron doorknobs.
The abstract compositions of organic shapes were created by photographing ordinary objects, e.g. in the case of what looks like a flower or a leaf by suspending a piece of thick fabric and capturing it from below. The creasy edges of the fabric, fringed with a thread, are strongly illuminated whereas the rest of the fabric is hidden in shadows. The light contrasts create an abstract effect and emphasize the composition’s decorative character.
A collection of plant photographs forms an unusual herbarium of dried flowers and dead tree branches. The trees and plants filling the composition become alike; Chrząszczowa photographed them so as to highlight their overall shape rather than, as customary in traditional herbariums, the various details. Negative prints and pronounced contrasts between black and white create an effect of flat composition. The specimens look as if they have been pressed and dried on sheets of paper.