The landscape of the eastern borderlands of Poland provided inspiration for Zofia Chometowska’s earliest photographs, it was there that the artist made her iconic and often-reproduced works such as “The Laundress”. This “exotic Poland”, as the author termed it, was a popular subject among the photographers of the interwar period, Chometowska however was perhaps the only one able to capture the diversity of themes and multiplicity of histories found in the region. Though the works do not make up a consistent series, a common theme binds them strongly, making it possible to present them jointly. All photographs were taken in the 1940s, in locations personally close to Chometowska – such as in the vicinity of Prochonsk (the family estate of the Drucki-Lubecki) or Dobroslawki (the estate of the Chometowski family).

Everyday life of villages

Chomętowska was very well acquainted with the villages surrounding her family estate – she was familiar with the names and stories of their residents, who knew her as “the lady with the camera.” She was able to document the customs, everyday work, communication and ways of coping with the abundance of water in Polesie. Her photographs show, in detail, such events as washing garments, fishing, transporting hay on boats, and drying flax, as well as chatting women and bored children. She didn’t aim to focus on presenting the everyday reality in the impoverished Polesian community or the dramatic poverty and lack of education, but nevertheless these themes always remained in the background, and emerged in the details: for example, bare feet, children’s labour, or scruffy clothes.
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Polesie Landscapes

Zofia Chometowska referred to her Polesie photographs as images of ‘exotic Poland’, in one issue of the “Women at Work” [Kobiety w Pracy] magazine she juxtaposed shots from her journey to Italy with the Polesie landscapes thus emphasizing the exceptional nature of scenes from the eastern borderlands of Poland. Rivers, lakes, and forests come together to form living elements of a distant realm. The artist remained unattracted by aestheticised postcard imagery, admitting that “landscape cards did not satisfy me, I kept looking for inspiration for other forms”. The endless stretches of Polesie land, the region of most severe poverty in the Second Polish Republic, were mostly inhabited by the Poleszuk people who ethnically came closest to the Belorussians. The bulk of the territory was taken up by marshes, rivers and lakes, which made boats the most convenient means of transportation. The so-called kureń houses for hunters and fishermen, built on piles with a centrally located hearth and an opening in the roof, also constituted a characteristic element of the landscape.
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Private Polesie

The works that seemingly came close to family photographs go beyond stereotypes with prints depicting a car that gets stuck in the mud time and again, the everyday life in the Prochonsk estate and, above all, the hunting scenes in which Chometowska eagerly participated. Photographs illustrating the private life of the Drucki-Lubecki and Chometowski families, their friends and relatives, are now invaluable evidence and an account of a now-passed community.
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Polesie - the most noteworthy shots.

The “picturesque” movement dominant in the interwar period imposed a number of formal limitations on photographers working within the genre. The influence of the movement is also clearly visible in the best-known and oft published works of Chometowska, and can be traced in her motionless prints and painterly approach to a theme. However, her use of the Leica camera and in-depth knowledge of the Polesie region yielded unique photographs that often went beyond the aura of popular landscape postcard shots. “The Laundress”, one of early photographs shown at an exhibition in Vilnius in 1933, is unquestionably among Chometowska’s emblematic works. The brilliant composition, consisting of two diagonals and a character seen from the rear, captivated the attention of contemporary viewers so strongly that the author published it in a volume of collected texts about the Leica camera Leica in Poland [Leica w Polsce] of 1936, and included it in her individual exhibition held in Warsaw the same year. The above-mentioned volume also featured Chometowska’s “Polesie Woman” a photograph considered exceptional due to its close-up and perfectly captured shadows.
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