EXPOSURE TIME / DEVELOPING TIME Early Ethnographic Photographs from the Małopolska Region


The exhibition presents more than 170 photographs handpicked from the oldest collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków. The source material consists of glass plate negatives and small paper prints made using historic photographic techniques. These images have been digitized and turned into large-format prints that reveal the richness of depictions and information contained in the photographs.

The showcased pictures were taken in the villages and towns of the historical Małopolska Region at the end of the 19th century and in the first three decades of the 20th century. They depict people’s life at that time: their customs, physical appearance, work, their homes and surroundings.

The title of the exhibition, by alluding to the terminology of the traditional photographic methods, suggests two metaphorical perspectives of looking at the photos: ‘exposure’ – the circumstances surrounding their creation a century ago, and ‘developing’ – how they resonate with us, today. 

The photographs were taken by people of different backgrounds and with different purposes in mind. Seweryn Udziela, teacher and ethnographer, collected photographic material for the Kraków Ethnographic Museum, which he founded. Jan Szczęsny Płatkowski, clerk, folklorist and writer from Myślenice, used the photos to illustrate his literary works. Leopold Węgrzynowicz, schoolteacher and editor of an ethnographical magazine, utilized his pictures in articles, lectures and lessons. Walery Eljasz Radzikowski, Kraków-based painter and Tatra expert, recorded the mountain landscapes as visual prompts for his paintings, and had his photos printed on postcards. Władysław Postawka, landowner from the vicinity of Kazimierza Wielka, musician and modern technology buff, portrayed his family, employees and the landowning society. Eugeniusz Stercula, pharmacist and promoter of ‘the Polishness’ of the Orawa Region, was a committed social activist, who photographed the local folklore and collected folk-related artefacts, whereas Karol Chotek, an ethnographer from Prague, gathered scientific material in the village of Bronowice near Kraków.

These, as well as other, anonymous authors of the photographs on display here, shared the need for recording the changing realities – not those of the stylized photographic ateliers that were popular at the time, but the living, authentic ones, documented in the field. They also shared something they understood as an urgent patriotic mission of restoring the historical continuity of the nation and defining the cultural identity of independent Poland.

The people who took these photographs wished to preserve the image of their world for posterity – including us. The exhibition allows us to reread the stories embedded in the images, filtered through our contemporary knowledge and experience, history and memory, both collective and private. It could be a time of developing our own associations, memories and emotions, discovering the fragments of the bygone age and confronting them with our own ideas about the past.

The exhibition is accompanied by antique objects such as a folding camera and a genuine glass plate negative produced with it. Another integral part of the exhibit is a contemporary composition presenting the sounds recorded in some of the places depicted in the photos.   

Early Ethnographic Photographs From the Małopolska Region

Curators, photograph layout:
Anna Bujnowska, Anna Sulich
Artistic concept, layout design, visual identification:
Agata Biskup
Cooperation and translations:
Anna Sak
Editing and proofreading:
Ewa Ślusarczyk
Photograph editing:
Andrzej Najder
Production of photographic prints:
Drukarnia Sztuki / Instytut Sztuki i Designu Uniwersytetu Komisji Edukacji Narodowej w Krakowie / Andrzej Najder, Rafał Malinowski, Joanna Jemioło, Gabriela Kur, Miłosz Najder
Sound design:
Konrad Gęca
Marzena Kolarz
Conservation supervision:
Agata Barczyńska, Katarzyna Mazurek-Lebowska, Katarzyna Wilaszek-Rozwadowska, Renata Palka
Production and set-up:
Tomasz Ostafin, Paweł Przybylski, Grzegorz Kurek, Marcin Koterwa, Andrzej Gąsiorowski
Technical consultation:
Adrian Tomasik, Jacek Szymański
Natalia Ciemborowicz-Luber, Joanna Grabeus, Olga Łuczyńska-Gawron
Educational programme:
Mirosław Bury, Urszula Sobczyk, Agata Ziomek
Accessibility consultation:
Anna Szelingowska

Media patrons: 

The objects have been selected from the collection of 2,500 photos curated as part of a project entitled ‘Digitisation and online accessibility of the historic collection of glass plate negatives and photographs from the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century present in the collection of The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków,’ completed between 2018 and 2021. The collection in its entirety is available online at https://zbiory.etnomuzeum.eu/en/collections/1/kolekcja-zabytkowych-fotografii.