One of the most surprising discoveries in Wojciech Zamecznik’s archive is a photo album which resembles an incomplete photo-book dummy. It is possible that it was never intended for print, but was simply conceived as a traditional photo-book. It was most definitely made in the early 1950s. Most photographs are family shots, but one will also find staged self-portraits and compositions that could be described as “formal explorations.” Even though it is impossible to reconstruct the original narration, due to, for instance, a number of missing sheets, it is noticeable that the pages were compiled in such a way so as to prompt visual associations.
A diapositive is a positive image, exposed on a transparent material – most frequently, on a photographic film or glass plate. It is the primary medium used in polygraphy, which explains why Zamecznik, an expert in printing techniques, often used diapositives in his work. This method enables higher colour saturation and contrast, while the grain remains fine. A diapostive image is thus contrastive and vivid, and effectively of better quality – when colour film is used. Zamecznik’s archive comprises over one thousand diapositives in two formats: medium (6x6 cm) and small (24x36 mm), majority of which have already been ditigized. The themes pictured in them range from studies of objects to family shots. Some frames were used by the artist in his subsequent graphic designs. Some of the most outstanding series are those which reveal Zamecznik’s experiments with colour and show how he applied it in his photographic compositions, as well as those that have thus far been only preserved on black and white prints.
Wojciech Zamecznik’s archive comprises, apart from the printed posters, a large collection of poster and placard dummies. They are mostly large format pieces, prepared in the penultimate stage of print production. A lot of the time, they contain information for the printers, concerning the colour shades or the distances between individual elements of the design. The reverse sides have dates and times (!) of collection written on them, as well as the commissioners’ signatures. The featured gallery includes dummies for such seminal posters as the Warsaw Autumn, the Family of Man exhibition, or a painted dummy for Zamecznik’s very first poster Uprzątnij śmiecie (Pick Up Your Trash). All dummies are shown in the pre-conservation state.
Wojciech Zamecznik’s photographic collection surprises with the short series of fashion photography and pictures of amateur models. The purpose of these materials has yet been unclarified. Zamecznik photographed Teresa Byszewska – an artist and student of Henryk Tomaszewski and Józef Mroszczak, several times. He also took pictures of amateur models, fashioned after the covers of the Przekrój weekly.
Many of Wojciech Zamecznik’s great projects, such as the poster for Modno Cane or the Warsaw Autumn (1963) would never have come into being, if it hadn’t been for his inspiring model, Halina Zamecznik. Her photogenic qualities and patience for her husband’s photographic experiments have allowed a series of beautiful works to come into being. The most recently found photographs had been exposed on colour film, for the first time enabling us to explore the colourful shoots taken in Narbutta Street – with a hued bottle, blurred lamp, or a fantasy sculpture (initially serving as a toy for a guinea pig).
Wojciech Zamecznik illustrated such books as Jan Brzechwa’s fairy tale On the Bergamuty Islands. The book was published by the Nasza Księgarnia publishing house in 1959. The humorous characters had often been drawn with just a few line strokes and vivid colour blotches. Thanks to the immaculately preserved archive, we can trace the different versions of individual illustrations as well as the process of achieving the final effect.
Views from the window of the Wojciech Zamecznik’s apartment in Narbutta Street are a recurring theme in his photographs. Zamecznik would find inspiration in scenes from the courtyard, the changing weather, views of the neighbouring garden, or the windows opposite.
Wojciech Zamecznik recurrently photographed himself – usually in his apartment, which he also used as a studio, and on the terrace. A lot of these portraits seem to be very old – it is likely that they were taken soon after the Second World War, which would make them one of the earliest preserved photographs by this author.
In 1961, Wojciech Zamecznik was commissioned by a publisher from Austria to design Józef Mroszczak’s book about contemporary Polish poster. The richly illustrated album Polnische Plakat Kunst was released in 1962 by Econ-Verlag in Vienna. At that time, poster design was booming and the Polish School of Poster was exceptionally popular across the world. Zamecznik took a series of photographs for this book – portraits of the designers and views of posters in public space. The mounting of the posters was prearranged, but nevertheless faithfully reflected their presence in the streets of Warsaw.
Wojciech Zamecznik designed the layout and covers for the Architektura magazine for over ten years. Some of them were purely graphic, while others photography-based. Occasionally, an entire year’s run would be designed in a uniform style, e.g. 1966 or 1967. Thanks to the artist’s precise design and planning, the latter series was continued after his death.
Wojciech Zamecznik was a fairly frequent traveller, especially considering the standards of the People’s Republic of Poland. Majority of these ventures were related to his professional tasks – as a designer of Polish pavilions and fair booths, he had to travel in order to supervise the installation. Sometimes he also went on international field trips for artists organized by the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP). In this way, Zamecznik, often accompanied by his wife, visited several Western European states, as well as the “sister countries,” at the time falling under the Soviet rule. Whilst on a journey, the artist filmed and photographed a lot – most of his shots were to act as souvenirs, but occasionally Zamecznik would use the photographs in his graphic designs or present them at art photography exhibitions.
Zamecznik did not take regular pictures of Warsaw. Neither did he document it thoroughly. When he went outside with his camera, he registered views that intrigued him formally, or ones that he could use for his designs and illustrations. Amongst the prints in the artist’s archive, especially captivating are the ones from the Grand Theatre’s and Holy Trinity Church’s construction sites. Individual frames were cropped on paper in various ways; some of them were also printed in exhibition display formats. Some of the other Warsaw themes include typical street photography and the outskirts – most likely in Mokotów, where the artist lived.
For his graphic works, Wojciech Zamecznik very often used his own photographs, both experimental and documentary. He would manipulate them in various ways, put into negative, crop, and so on. Then he would arrange them into poster-like compositions, which he used as book illustrations or magazine covers, mainly for "Architektura" and "Projekt".
Posters were one of Wojciech Zamecznik’s main fields of creative practice. He started making them shortly after the end of the Second World War and his most intense period of poster-making occurred between 1954 and 1970, when the best-known ones saw the daylight: movie posters for Kawalerowicz’s "Night Train" and "Mother Joan of the Angels", Wajda’s "Innocent Sorcerers" or Bergman’s "Summer with Monika"; a beautiful series of posters for the Warsaw Autumn contemporary music festival; or interesting posters for various social campaigns.
The qualities usually ascribed to Zamecznik’s posters – sophisticated simplicity subjected to intellectual rigour, elimination of decorative elements that obscure the composition (Jerzy Olkiewicz, "Kultura", 1967), or the ability to build meaning through the use of a powerful visual sign – overlap with the criteria for successful trademark design. This is a marginal aspect of the artist’s practice, but one underlined by the same artistic philosophy as his posters.
Among Zamecznik’s trademark designs are those for the Arkady publishing house (1st prize, 1956, still in use), the Tarchomińskie Zakłady Farmaceutyczne pharmaceutical company, the Zakłady Elektroniczne Unitra electronics plant, the Ludowa Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza publishing house, the Warsaw Museum of Physical Culture and Tourism, or a logo for the 1st Warsaw International Poster Biennale (1st prize, 1966).
Wojciech Zamecznik was occasionally involved in creating space design for industrial exhibitions and Polish pavilions at industrial fairs. He is responsible for, e.g.: the “Węgiel” (“Coal”) pavillion at the 1948 Recovered Territories Exhibition in Wrocław (together with Stanisław Zamecznik); 2nd National Exhibition of Interior Architecture, CBWA Zachęta, Warsaw, 1957 (with Oskar Hansen); Polish stall at the Food Fairs in London (1954) and Paris (1955); Polish pavilion at the industrial fair in Turin, 1961 (with Jan Lenica).
Zamecznik was widely recognized for his animated credit titles. His archive revealed pieces used for creating animated credit titles in e.g. the TV-broadcast film “15 minut lekcji języka rosyjskiego” (“15 Minutes of Russian Language Classes”); the archive also includes drawings used in the credit titles for Andrzej Munk’s “Pasażerka” (“The Passenger”), as well as photographs for Janusz Morgenstern’s “Jutro Premiera” (“Tomorrow’s Premiere”).
Wojciech Zamecznik’s portraits of visual artists feature mainly the representatives of the so called Polish School of Posters: Henryk Tomaszewski, Józef Mroszczak, Roman Cieślewicz, Jan Lenica, Jan Młodożeniec, Walerian Borowczyk, Wojciech Fangor, Tadeusz Trepkowski, Julian Pałka, Franciszek Starowieyski, or Waldemar Świerzy; other subjects include sculptor Alina Szapocznikow, installation artist Stanisław Zamecznik or satirist and caricaturist Eryk Lipiński. The portraits, depicting a close-knit community rather than isolated figures, were made from the 1940s through the 1960s in the artists’ studios or at exhibitions, such as in the case of a group portrait of visual artists at the Polish Industry Exhibition in Moscow in 1949. The abovementioned artists shared joint projects (domestic and international) and the fact of working for the design magazine Projekt, founded on the wave of liberalization after Stalin’s death. Their involvement in designing modern forms of everyday life and ‘resistance against omnipresent ugliness’ harmonized with the magazine’s mission statement: an ‘interest ... in marrying art with industry and craft, in the visual artist’s share in the development of modern urbanistics and architecture, in the creation of a new shape of life’. The portrayed artists were also active academics who run teaching studios at the art schools in Warsaw, Cracow and Poznań, where they popularized their artistic ideas.
Some of the featured portraits were later used in the catalogue "Polnische Plakat Kunst" [Polish Poster Art] by Józef Mroszczak (Econ-Verlag, Vienna, 1962).
Among the photographs Wojciech Zamecznik made in the 1960s is an amazing series of colour and black-and-white images bringing to mind the kind of visuals adored by the Surrealists. This are glimpses of reality showing its ruptures, surprising in its everydayness, distorted in the mirror of imagination and daydreaming.