When it comes to photography, the first thing I remember is being annually forced to watch some “old boring pictures” during the slide-shows that my granddad organized. As a kid of the late 80’s I was much more into this other thing called the computer. Years passed, everyone grew older, granddad stopped performing his shows, dust settled on his slides and we all moved on. In 2012, after having spent the last few years abroad working, traveling and taking pictures, I’ve decided to re-visit my granddad’s body of work. More than a year later I’m still astounded with what I found.
When was the first time my granddad held a camera in his hands? What was his first encounter with photography? Was he interested in photography in his early age? My granddad finds all my questions bizarre, ridiculous even. I was 13 years old when the Second World War started and by that time I only knew the world of poverty, slums and squats. All that mattered in these dark times was to make the ends meet for his sisters, his mum and him. From poverty into war! Food, safety: they were on my mind, not some silly things! He’s full of fascinating stories of my family barely surviving those perilous times but there’s not a sign of anything photography related in his early memories.
We gradually move to the first years of post-world Poland. My granddad was dead serious about getting an education as he saw this as an only way of lifting his family from poverty. He first started attending a technical high school for war survivors and then studied economics. Throughout this time my granddad was always on the lookout for any jobs. After a few temporary odd ones he finally found one that he was to keep for more than 3 years. I worked as a projection room assistant in the Cinema in Gdynia. Every day I had to skip the last class of school and rush to the cinema! From 3am till the late hours of the night he’d be sitting in the film room, his eyes fixed on the screen, waiting for the right moments to change the wheels of the film. Since the quality of the film in those days was terrible we had to be ready for it to break any second. We didn’t want the audience to get annoyed and demand their money back. That’s how I learned about film he adds and smiles briefly. I try to suggest that maybe these long nights spent staring at the black and white classics and propaganda documentaries influenced his understanding of aesthetics and composition and thus helped shape him as a photographer. He seems puzzled to hear that. A photographer?! I was never a photographer, Mikolaj! But you should see the works of the photographers who were working at our bureau…
At an architectural bureau I worked after graduation I was selected to attend a government educational program. Finally I was able to study day and night! I’ve finished with the best marks, granddad ads proudly. Afterwards I was called in by the ministry. After long hours of interviews they told me that the ministry wants me to become a director of the state run architectural bureau CityProject in Katowice! I was straight with them and told them right away that I have to decline since I plan on continuing to study. <The time for studying is over, comrade>, I was told, <now is the time of work. There is much to be built in the post-war Poland. You will take the job>. Putting it simply, I had no choice. I packed my bags and moved.
Granddad didn’t forget the lessons on the power of images that he had learned during his time working at the cinema. One of his first decisions was to set up a dark-room in one of the offices and hire a photographer. I hired a god-damn good one too. It was very important to have someone who would document the buildings we designed so that the material could be later used as a reference for the next projects. The photos were also perfect for gift- folders for the local and international delegations that visited the City Project. As a director my granddad also toured some other countries of the soviet bloc during similar delegations. It was in the mid 50s that during a visit to USSR he and other directors were invited into an electric appliance factory. All of the visitors received a gift that day: a camera. I told you! I was never much interested in photography… But since I already had such a device I was compelled to learn how to use it. I consulted the photographers at the bureau and learned through process of many, many mistakes, he laughs and makes a gesture as if he was holding a camera. I was never more than a “click” camera user!
Those days a director used to earn a lot less than most people working at the bureau but me and your grandma we had this rule, he says with a very serious tone of voice. Summertime meant that your aunt and mum were to be out of the city. We saved so that they could have as long of a vacation as possible. Sometimes we would be able to go with them or visit them. Whenever there was a meaningful family moment I wanted to capture it so that we could save it. Store these fleeting moments.
I ask him what my aunt and mum thought of such picture moments. They hated it! Especially your mum!, he laughs. It was always the same. They were crying and misbehaving when I wanted to set up a picture. The “ahhs” and “ohhs” would only come after the film was developed, during the family slide-shows. As to the pictures, I would see something like a nice view and tell them to do this and that.
“So it wasn’t much of a photographical socialism, more like a photographical tyranny?”, I ask him playfully. More like a photographical tyranny…, he repeats my words and burst into laugh. Grandson, all I wanted was to take some nice pictures!
Mikołaj Rogowski (born 1986) is a photographer and an IP lawyer.
Czesław Możejko (1926) born in Vilnius, economist and a photographer, Mikolaj’s granddad.