on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

End frame: Zbyszko Siemaszko – Untitled (sygn. nr. 51-687-30)

Roman Gieruc chooses one of his favourite images

Roman Gieruc

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1961. Leave a well started music career and Poland to follow feelings to Lausanne, Switzerland in 1986. Got married, worked for money and played drums in rock bands for pleasure. Became father and widower but still playing drums. Photography was present along all this way but took more and more space in the last 5 years.


When I received the offer to write this article, my first instinct was to refuse. First off, I’m not very proficient in English. More or less at ease when it comes to listening and reading, but much less so when speaking or writing. Writing is not a favourite pastime of mine either, or at least it hasn’t been for a while. But lo and behold! On the same day, I received Charlotte Britton’s message, while browsing a photography page, I came across the very photo that I will be discussing here. It seemed to me that it was a sign and I decided to write in French (not my first language either) and to ask my daughter for an English translation. I spoke to Charlotte about my project and I got her approval. It took me some time, but apparently, you’re reading me right now!

It is perfectly legitimate for you to ask me: why is this photo in your (favourite!) magazine whose name clearly indicates the preferred orientation of images, and in which we usually admire landscapes with very minimal human presence? Well, those aren’t the only photographs found here, but it is the general trend; beautiful colours and splendid curves that come to us from almost everywhere. And here, we’re faced with a street well populated by people and vehicles, soaked in the pouring rain. Moreover, taken in a black and white which betrays the photograph’s analogue origins and its age. This won’t be a revelation - an urban landscape is necessarily populated, and even in a city like Warsaw in 1968 there were cars, trams and buses, not to mention the motorcycles and bikes, absent in the moment we are witnessing because of the rain. By this slightly roundabout discussion, I come to the answer to the above question - what is pictured is indeed a landscape, and to boot, I very much like this image taken by a photographer who is little known outside of Poland.

This may be a good time to say a few words about the author of this shot. Zbyszko Siemaszko was born on the 30th of August, 1925 in Vilnius (then in Poland, now in Lithuania) in a family of photographers. His father’s studio was frequented by political, religious and economic figures looking for the perfect portrait. Young Zbyszko’s path was clear but World War II disrupted his plans. Despite his young age, he was drafted to be a soldier in the polish guerrilla army after the 1939 invasion of Poland. During and between battles, he stayed faithful to his passion for photography and documented life in the underground resistance. Only less than a third of those photos survived the war. Severely wounded to the head two separate times, he was made a prisoner by the Gestapo. Luckily, his fellows managed to free him.

After the war, he finished his studies and was hired to photographically document the reconstruction and restoration of Warsaw’s architectonic monuments. He then worked as a photographer in magazines and some of the city’s newspapers. He became, in a way, THE Warsaw photographer. He kept taking pictures of the city until his death, on the 4th of March, 2015, when he was 89 years old.

Let’s go back to the picture in question. This image came into my life multiple times during very different periods. The first time I saw it, it must have been in a magazine or a newspaper, and then in a photo exhibition. With the birth of the Internet, I’ve caught glimpses of it multiple times. It was easy to remember; it is the perfect photograph for me. But each time I saw it, my experience of it was different. I know — or rather I knew — the place where the picture was snapped perfectly; back left, out of frame, the “Moscow” cinema which doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe because of the name — or is it real estate speculation? The building was made famous by Chris Niedenthal’s photograph taken on the 13th of December, 1981; on the theatre’s bill is an advertisement for the movie “Apocalypse Now”, and in the foreground, a tank from the polish army — you can’t make this up!

How completely different from the picture we’re discussing!

Back to 1968; at the time I lived only a few trams stops away from the street pictured, in the same direction the shot is taken. I didn’t yet know that 150 metres away was a photography shop where I would buy, almost 20 years later, my first camera.
Back to 1968; at the time I lived only a few trams stops away from the street pictured, in the same direction the shot is taken. I didn’t yet know that 150 metres away was a photography shop where I would buy, almost 20 years later, my first camera. I also remember this rain, what a downpour! We always view and feel a photograph through our experience, but there is of course also the aesthetic aspect of it, which is far from negligible here. The gracefulness and the poetry of those milliseconds captured on film were extracted from a daily life that was far from simple and easy. The horizon tilts slightly to the right, which is quite far-off from an architectural photographer’s habits; they usually structure their pictures with very sharp and neat lines.

This certainly deliberate characteristic makes the scene feel alive and aerial. The girl seems to fly over the pavement without ever touching it. Where is she running to? Is the car with a slightly open door waiting for her? We will never know, and it is best that way. It allows each person to see and experience this image differently. A thin slice cut from time and light which our individual gaze will uniquely colour.

You will find this photograph, as well as the next and previous ones here:
Finally, I would like to encourage you to discover more of Zbyszko Siemaszko’s works in this album:

Thank you

Roman Gieruć

Translated from French by Francesca Gieruć

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