No 3 (95) 2013
July - September

Pendrive as a Keepsake

For centuries commemoration of the passing time has been one of the functions of photography. However, what can be its role today - in the digitalization era - when over 250 million snapshots appear daily on Facebook only?

Eulalia Domanowska

B. in 1960. Art historian, critic, curator. She publishes texts on contemporary art.

Eulalia Domanowska

OUT OF ALL THESE, WHAT IS WORTH REMEMBERING? Zbigniew Tomaszczuk stresses that "writing skills are not a guarantee of interesting texts, as much as popular use of automatic cameras is not a guarantee of interesting photographs"1). This outstanding Polish photographer, keeping well in mind times of analogue techniques, suggested his PhD students at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, a topic connected with the concept of memory in contemporary photography. The results have been presented at the Action Gallery (Galeria Działań) in Warsaw. A teasing title "I Am Giving You a Pendrive as a Keepsake" has referred to the changing media of photographic art. Paper prints have been replaced with digital files. One needs special equipment to watch recorded images. They are not immediately available for perception.

The exhibition participants have adopted various approaches to the issue of archive photography... An installation by the father of the idea, entitled "An Attempt to Revive Classical Photography", clearly illustrated the problem, and a kind of nostalgia for old techniques felt by photography masters. There was a selfportrait of the artist in a processing tray. An intravenous drip with developer was gradually revealing a - far from perfect - picture. Next to this, Tomaszczuk displayed keepsakes inherited from his father, Leon - the Zorka 4 Soviet photo camera (in other words, a successful fake of German made Leica); the gadget that used to be then a dream coming true for any photographer. Besides, there was a box full of negatives registering his father's 1963 stay in Soviet Russia in: Leningrad, Sochi, Tbilisi, Cau-casus. They have never been copied till the moment when his son took an interest in them, and compared these with his own photographs depicting the same locations.

Most of the photographs presented on the exhibition have been black-and-white. Certainly, a sense of old times is connected with the feeling that one watches something noble and unique. A small chapel showing family snapshots, offered by Barbara Dębiec, resembled  the ones typical of the Warsaw Prague, i.e., the Vistula river right bank. Rural communities used to build such chapels in cities to assimilate urban space. Homely, nevertheless far from modernistic design.

In a similar way the "Dreams Can Come True", large size pieces by Monika Skier, have been bordering on the verge of kitsch and pop culture. She has fitted her self-portraits, stylized as in fantasy movies, side by side with Hollywood production popular characters, such as Batman or King Kong. The reality has been combined here with fiction, exactly as it happens in our memory. The work has been a full of irony answer to the question posed by Tomaszczuk, and a comment on aesthetic aspects of the public space of today, claimed by "visually aggressive" commercials or computer games that have been shaping the vision of young generations.

A photo object - an anamorphosis by Maciej Sternak - has been the author's reflection on the process of decoding images registered on digital media. "I am giving you a floppy disk as a keepsake - a small, flat object with coded digital pictures. Today a futile gift for most of us, because it cannot be read without a decoder."2) In order to offer an opportunity to watch pictures made in an anamorphosis technique, the author has mounted two symbolic "mirror" towers, shaped as of chromium cylinders that make it possible to see his photos. As the artist observed: "Without a decoder, one is losing memory; digital, mechanical, culture oriented."

Maciej Sternak has showed one more piece - a selection of several photos from the "Chernobyl Shade" series. The photographer has visited this place. He was granted a permission to enter a closed zone housing the debris of the nuclear plant and Pripyat, the town specially built to support the plant. Abandoned buildings, overgrown surroundings, broken furniture, empty streets with raging wind, discarded books and a desolate piano, turned over to one side at a local musical school. All these present a current picture of the town, once full of life, with forty thousand inhabitants, where people will be forbidden to settle for the nearest three hundred years. Reaching to archive photographs, history and special places turns to be highly inspiring, though not completely blind.


1) The Action Gallery, leaflet, April 2013.

2) Comment by the author

"I Am Giving You a Pendrive as a Keepsake", the Action Gallery, Warsaw, April, 2013.