Edward Hartwig`s Photography (by Marek Grygiel)
Text from: "Edward Hartwig. Fotografia / Photography", catalogue of exhibition at Stara Galeria ZPAF
When several years ago a critic wrote on Edward Hartwig's art, he complained that his job was an extraordinary hard one. He was right: after all, how can the phenomenon of this most outstanding art photographer's artistic output, be rendered in a short piece of writing, especially that Edward Hartwig has been active for nearly seventy years? One should bear in mind that photography is 155 years old, so Hartwig's artistic activity covers nearly a half of this period. Maybe he is one of the few art photographers in the world who have been working so long and who have been so creative at that.
But his beginnings promised the contrary. Their father, Ludwig Hartwig, a professional photographer, had an atelier in the town of Lublin, where the Hartwig family settled after the I World War, having escaped the Soviet Revolution. The family turned out to be very talented and active. His brother Walenty became prominent physician and professor of medicine and younger sister Julia is well known author.
Edward Hartwig himself continues family's photographic tradition. His brother became an eminent doctor, a professor of medicine, and it was just Edward who kept the family tradition: as years passed by, photography became more and more important to him. It was his studies in the Vienna Institute of Graphics, at professor Rudolph Kopitz's class, which were conducive to it; so was his family's fondness of art. (His parents loved the theatre.) Edward Hartwig's ties with the Lublin artistic circles (especially with the St. Luke Brotherhood) strengthened. They were kept and then extended onto the Warsaw circles after the II World War where he finally settled down. Exceptional support for Edward Hartwig's artistic career was given by his wife Helen, herself an active member of Union of Polish Art Photographers. She has participated in many exhibitions and competitions at home and abroad winning awards and distinctions.
Also artist's daughters: Ewa Hartwig-Fijałkowska and Danuta Saulewicz cooperated with their father in the sphere of theatrical and landscape photography. They even published book together (Photographic album about town of Kazimierz nad Wisłą). The artist's attitude throughout his creative life has always been influenced by his strong ties with art (in a broad understanding of this world). Thence his deep fascination in the theatre, which effected in long and stable contacts with the scenes of Warsaw. Edward Hartwig's theatre photographs are numerous. He began to take thern in Lublin but he had his first contacts with the theatre in the pre-revolutional Moscow, where he was fascinated by a Maeterlinck's play staged by the Konstanty Stanisławski Theatre. After many years he paid hommage to the world of theatre, publishing his magnificient "Behind the Scene of the Theatre" album. An exhibition of his photographs (of the same name) was shown in many European countries. Moving for many years in the theatre circles, photographing everything which was connected with the stage, Edward Hartwig – to a rare degree – was able to render the atmosphere of conventionality which is typical to this realm of art. His was a series of photographic portraits of eminent Polish actors (J. Świderski, I. Eichlerowna, Z. Mrozowska, H. Mikołajska). It was in his photographs that many magnificient plays were presented, but what is more important, he gave these photographs his unique style, and his stagy inspirations helped him create unique, characteristic photographic compositions.
Availing himself of the closeness of the "the world of the stage", he penetrated its fringes, and his photographs, breaking with the stage reality, became independent entities – they were by no means mere pieces of documental recording. This kind of creative transforming the reality is typical to any kind of Hartwig's photography. His landscapes, well known to everybody, have been fixed on scores of prints of which only a small part was incorporated into his albums – they are photographs to which the artist gave his own unique individual style. The landscape (and maybe the portrait) which has become his favourite photographic motive, he made his "most lovable theme, putting in it as much heart as the artistic and technological knowledge", as his younger sister and poetess, Julia Hartwig, wrote in her preface to Edward Hartwig's "Willows" album a couple of years ago. A keen traveller, Edward Hartwig photographed the beauty of nature, but he was doing it in his own unique manner, interpreting nature according to his own esthetic criteria and canons. Now we can admire his romantic Polish landscapes, or geometrical, semi-abstract Norwegian landscapes where vast planes of water and rock made the core of composition. Others are permeated by poetics of the symbol, like for instance his light-and-shade landscapes which he has recently photographed in Switzerland, where he was invited for the opening of his retrospective exhibition which made a part of the "L'année de l'Est" show.
Edward Hartwig is also interested in what we may call modernity. But he has always been "modern", and it is possible to say now that he was always "searching". His artistic output could never be unequivocally classified as a well-defined category (for instance "the portrait", "landscape" or "act"). Edward Hartwig is by no means a graphic who employs photography, neither his photographs are „photographic graphics”. Through all these years of his constant and varied search, he managed to create his unique and specific style, so inherent to his personality that whenever we see any of his works, there can be no doubts who the author is. This applies both to his landscapes and to his acts. It was already in late '40s when, being one of the few participants in the famous "Modern Art Exhibition" in Cracow, he manifested his attitude of a searching artist. He astonished the public with his new realizations – bold and creative. He has always been able to make experiments with photography, which can be best seen in the photographs which he showed in the '80s and '90s at the Union of Polish Art Photographers "Mała Callery" in Warsaw and at "Foto-Medium-Art" in Wrocław.
This also applies to his latest experiments with the colour, which he presented two years ago in the form of a diapositive display at the exhibition of recent photographs at "Mała Gallery". We know that Edward Hartwig's photographs were always black-and-white. But in a thoroughly masterly style, he managed to extract all possible nuances, he discovered to us an unbelievable variety of forms and shades, sticking all the time to traditional, classic bromine technique. It was as early as at the beginning of the '70s that he took serious interest in everything that colour photography could offer. At that time however he did not addict himself utterly to such photography, partly because of its technological limitations. But judging by his latest experiments and successful presentations, first at this year's big exhibition in Riga, and then in a small exhibition space of the Professional Photographic Laboratory in Warsaw, we can say that Edward Hartwig's comeback to the colour – but this time in a completely different dimension and in a different character – is his another extraordinary artistic adventure, promising many unexpected and astounding realizations.
It seems that all Edward Hartwig's search, his constant readiness to find out still new possibilities which are offered by artistic photography, manifest the artist's presence in the artistic life and in photographic art of the last decades. The "ripening of peace", which, as he put it in one of his lastest interviews, he has recently found after many years, enables him now that he gathered so vast experience, also to express himself in his works and to astonish us with his own and most unique vision of artistic photography. He has always been faithful to this vision, as his exhibitions and albums prove.