Homing. Włodzimierz Puchalski

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  • Friday, July 22, 2022 - Sunday, November 6, 2022

The role that Sir David Attenborough has for decades played for the British audience has its Polish equivalent in the person of Włodzimierz Puchalski. The exhibition at the International Cultural Centre, showcases the work of this celebrated Polish naturalist, photographer, artist, and educator.

During a photo competition in Cairo in 1949, the press nicknamed Włodzimierz Puchalski the “Colosse” – a giant. It was for a reason. He was a photographer, pioneer of nature films, director, traveller, polar explorer, and a tireless advocate of knowledge about native fauna. In the communist era, his works – dozens of photo albums and books, documentary films, radio and TV programmes – shaped the Polish idea of communing with nature.

He started his work as a photographer and then a filmmaker in Lviv at the Lviv Polytechnic in the 1930s, and from the very beginning he enjoyed popularity and renown. In his work, which has been awarded many times in Poland and abroad, the most important are photographs of animals in their natural environment, usually taken from hiding. The technically flawless photos present distinct scientific and didactic value, while demonstrating powerful artistic qualities as well. This idea of aesthetic shaping of the image was instilled in Puchalski by the masters of the Lviv school of photography – Henryk Mikolasch and Witold Romer, among others.

The nearly 250 works on show at the ICC Gallery come mainly from the huge collection at the Niepołomice Museum. Compiled in four sections, in a subtle arrangement, they propose a new reading of the rich oeuvre of Włodzimierz Puchalski as one of the most famous Polish naturalists. The exhibition features a selection of masterful portraits of animals, wild and domestic, very intimate, but also not depriving them of their subjectivity. Black and white photos, in which Puchalski captured fragments of places usually inaccessible to people, allowed for a deeper experience of the beauty of nature.

Important for a full understanding of the photographer’s work are also photographic views of Lviv, on display for the first time. In the 1930s, Puchalski photographed the city similarly to nature, focusing on details, empty space, and cloud formations above the city. It was a very original way at the time. This theme is complemented by the works of the aforementioned two outstanding pioneers of photography and a 1938 unique film “Water” by Witold Romer.

The title is the scientific term, meaning the ability of animals to find their way home, even if they are outside their usual environment. In the space of the exhibition, homing concern storks from the village of Butyny, where in 1937 Włodzimierz Puchalski participated in a research project on this unusual phenomenon. Today, Butyny and the nearby village of Puchalski, Mosty Wielkie, are in Ukraine. That is why homing takes on yet another meaning – it becomes a metaphor for Ukrainians and their animal companions, who want to return to their homes at all cost, whose home instinct is rushing them back, although the Russian aggression continues. In this war, animals become equally important victims, they are given attention for the first time, people attempt to save them, and organise help for them.

It is this theme of the inextricable bond between humans and animals, exhibited for the first time in the context of war and exile caused by war, that brings attention to ecological contexts. The selection of Puchalski’s works therefore inspires further reflection on the effects of destructive human interventions in the natural environment, the crisis of biodiversity in the 20th century, and the rapid pace of extinction of a huge number of species. 

Homing. Włodzimierz Puchalski is yet another exhibition the ICC that seeks to examine the human relationship with the natural world. It follows the exhibition “Plants and Animals. Atlases of natural history in the age of Linnaeus” (2020), which addressed the fascination with this world in the era before the invention of photography. It also echoes the works of the Surrealist Max Ernst, shown at the ICC Gallery as part of the exhibition An Ornithologist's Dreams (2016). Meanwhile, the photos of pre-war views of Lviv propose a new approach to exploring the modern urban landscape in the early years the 20th century, presented at the exhibition Lviv, 24 June 1937. City, Architecture, Modernism (2018).

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