Wojciech Plewiński: Fervent Curiosity

Wojciech Plewiński: Fervent Curiosity

Curator: Wojciech Nowicki

Manggha Museum, Kraków

16 September–4 October, 2017


Wojciech Plewiński (born 1928) is one of the most significant Polish photographers of the postwar period. A versatile photographer of eclectic range and omnivorous inquisitiveness, he has, over the course of a career spanning more than half a century, established himself as an accomplished portraitist and fashion photographer, as well as an auteur who produced a striking documentary record of the Polish theatre. Yet a significant segment of his work—his narrative photojournalism—has never been shown to a wider audience.

Having embarked upon a multiyear project dedicated to the preservation of Plewiński’s vast private archive, the Foundation for Visual Arts now presents Wojciech Plewiński: Fervent Curiosity, a landmark retrospective consisting of some three hundred photographs (both original and modern-day prints) supplemented by primary-source material. Curated by Wojciech Nowicki, who has developed an intimate working relationship with the photographer in the course of examining his archive, the exhibit is an attempt to portray Plewiński from a slightly different angle than before: as a distinguished documentary photographer.

Born in Warsaw, Plewiński is an architect by training. But only two years after completing his studies in Kraków, he began receiving his first photographic assignments from the seminal Przekrój weekly, initiating a collaboration which would last until the end of his professional career. (Retirement aside, the eighty-nine-year-old Plewiński has remained active as a photographer ever since.) He also worked with periodicals such as Tygodnik Powszechny, Ziemia, and Polska, although it should be noted that a significant portion of the works featured in the exhibit resulted not from commissions but from the photographer’s own ceaseless need to document.

In contrast to his photojournalist peers, Wojciech Plewiński stands out for his warm and sympathetic attitude toward his subjects (Biebrza, SAMs). Any winks toward the viewer or ironic touches are never of the malicious or condescending variety, but instead speak to the photographer’s playful, amused curiosity. In his documentary work, he tends to focus on minor stories and underdog characters, rather than on momentous, era-defining events such as Communist Party conventions, political rallies, or labour strikes. Even when covering the official unveiling of a statue of Lenin (in Nowa Huta), his idiosyncratic focus isn’t on the statue’s granitic heft so much as the precariousness of the unseen platform straining to support it from below.

The exhibit opens with a young Plewiński’s early, lesser-known photographs from the 1950s—unearthed from the artist’s files, they’ve rarely, if ever, been exhibited before—which provide a window into how he developed his own way of looking at the world around him. Subsequent series, from the late fifties (Italia 57 and Western Territories, both distinctly crafted); early sixties (France, a lyrically evocative chanson réaliste of a portfolio); and late sixties (Yugoslavia, Plewiński’s elemental portrayal of a bronzed fisherman in sync with the rhythms of oar and tide), trace an artistic evolution that was equal parts technical maturation and creative liberation. Recent Notes, a coda of sketch-like impressions taken since 2000, serves less as the exhibit’s conclusion than as testimony to the undiminished vitality of Wojciech Plewiński.

Fervent Curiosity has been organised within the sphere of the Foundation for Visual Arts’ long-term Wojciech Plewiński archival project, dedicated to the digitisation and dissemination of Plewiński’s prolific output across seven decades of photographing. The project’s initial stage led to the creation and curation of the digital archive and web resource. The Foundation’s Plewiński efforts are ongoing.



Wojciech Plewiński: Fervent Curiosity

Curator: Wojciech Nowicki


Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology

ul. M. Konopnickiej 26, Kraków

Open from 16 September–4 October, 2017

Tue–Sun 10–18


Organiser: Foundation for Visual Arts

Partners: Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, Kyoto–Kraków Foundation, Lablab Foundation, Przekrój Quarterly


Project co-financed by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage