The term “worker photography” denotes the international movement of left-wing photographers — both working-class amateurs and middle class professionals — who documented the life of the working class in the 1920s and the 1930s. The movement aimed at creating class consciousness through theoretically educating the workers’ gaze and facilitating the ... (Show more)
The term “worker photography” denotes the international movement of left-wing photographers — both working-class amateurs and middle class professionals — who documented the life of the working class in the 1920s and the 1930s. The movement aimed at creating class consciousness through theoretically educating the workers’ gaze and facilitating the access to photographic materials. Worker-photographers presented their work in illustrated press and during exhibitions. Moreover, the term encompasses private photographic practices of workers that took place outside of the organized movement. They included taking, collecting and exchanging photographs.
Since the late 2000s, several international, multidisciplinary research projects, museum exhibitions, and publications have been devoted to the phenomenon of worker photography. The most important include:
- The seminar preceding the exhibition “Una luz dura, sin compasión” (“A hard and merciless light”) at Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid (2010 - 2011, curated by Jorge Ribalta). The exhibition’s catalogue contains the most complete survey of the international worker photography movement available.
- Wolfgang Hesse’s team’s research at the ISGV in Dresden. The project resulted in two key publications, “Die Eroberung der Beobachtenden Maschinen” (“The conquest of the observing machines”) in 2012 and “Das Auge des Arbeiters” (“The worker’s eye”) in 2014. The latter served as a catalogue to an exhibition presented in Zwickau, Dresden and Cologne.
- The exhibition “Photographie, arme de classe” (“Photography, Weapon in Class Struggle” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2018-2019, curated by Damarice Amao) and its catalogue.
- Volume 4 (2020) of the yearly "Transbordeur: Photographie" edited by Christian Joschke and Olivier Lugon.
This body of research is devoted to worker photography in the Weimar Republic, the USSR, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the US, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Hungary, and Switzerland. Nevertheless, it does not include contributions regarding the Second Polish Republic, where worker photography was shaped by the local material, legal, and political obstacles. In my paper, I will relate the above-mentioned scholarship to material evidence available for inter-war Poland, such as:
a) The history and theoretical background of “The First Exhibition of Worker Photography” (Lviv, 1936) supported by the communist, socialist and agrarian populist parties. The exhibition was criticized by the Polish photographic milieu influenced by contacts with German National Socialist photographers.
b) The oeuvre of Aleksander Minorski, a worker-photographer who created the concept of “militant photography” in Warsaw in the 1930s and was imprisoned for his photographic work.
c) The Digital Photography Collection – “Workers in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century” (https://fotografierobotnikow.uni.lodz.pl/
) hosted by the University of Lodz. It contains over 9000 items - photographs and autobiographical writings of Polish workers from before 1946. The collection enables an analysis of private photographic practices, auto-identification and memory of Polish industrial workers.
d) Theoretical developments in the fields of visual arts and literary criticism published in Polish communist and socialist journals both in Poland and the USSR.
In my analysis, I use Alf Lüdtke’s and Thomas Lindenberger’s idea of “Eigen-Sinn” and Jacques Rancière’s idea of the “distribution of the sensible”. (Show less)