- December 21, 2012
Jan Bułhak’s Footsteps Through Vilnius and Masuria
For two years photography lovers from the Third Age Academy in Olsztyn have followed artistic footsteps of Jan Bułhak, preparing the exhibition “Jan Bułhak’s Footsteps Through Vilnius and Masuria”. Several people with cameras in their hands were traversing Poland, and also (and maybe mainly) the Vilnius Region, to duplicate shots from the past of a well-known art photographer Jan Bułhak.
The exhibition in the Gallery “Znad Willi” presents about twenty double photo sets. Larger and colour photo – this is a contemporary photograph taken with a digital camera. Smaller, black and white photo is Bułhak’s work. The artist’s photographs come from private collections. If the exhibition is not unique, which the visitors of the Gallery “Znad Willi” got accustomed to, the enthusiasm, nostalgia and some special yearning of the people who prepared it captures. Two years of collecting efforts, searching, partly also learning from Bułhak, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Polish photographers must capture.
The photos of Jan Bułhak are well-known and one can often see them. Thousands of postcards with his photos were issued, 158 albums devoted to towns and regions of the Second Polish Republic were prepared in his studio. However, the originals of his works have stunning prices at auctions, are very sought-after by experts in photography and in the author’s talent. In July 1944 in the fire started by Germans the artist’s studio in ul. Orzeszkowa in Vilnius burned down completely together with almost 50 thousand catalogued negatives. It was a significant part of almost seventy-year-old Jan Bułhak’s photographic output.
When 5 years later Bułhak met in Toruń his old friend Helena Kujawa from Tyszkiewicz family, he still couldn’t keep his tears back after the loss of his archive. Then, in a way, he helped Helena’s son to choose a camera and even made a small financial contribution in this purchase, telling the child: “Let this camera be of best possible use for you”.
Jan Bułhak’s photographic career also started by chance. His wife got a camera as a gift. Jan helped his wife to develop negatives, he stared at photos and he was very fascinated by this activity. Stefan Batory University graduate of the faculty of the philosophy approached a new profession very seriously. He developed skills in Dresden. In Vilnius he met the painter Ferdynand Ruszczyc with whom he was in artistic relationship which transformed into deep friendship. The friendship with Ruszczyc strongly influenced his artistic perception of the world. On Jan Bułhak’s photos very clear impact of graphics and painting is visible. In Poland he became a great promoter of pictorialism, i.e. putting great emphasis to aesthetics, chiaroscuros, atmosphere and picturesqueness in photography. Thanks to Ruszcyc Bułhak was offered a contract from the city authorities on maintaining documentation of Vilnius. He did it for almost nine years. He documented Vilnius’s architecture with great care and meticulousness. He loved Vilnius and the Vilnius Region the most, and he devoted to these regions most of his time and creative eagerness.
He took war damages in his beloved city very emotionally. In May 1945 he repatriated himself to Poland. He devoted the last years of his life to photographic documentation of Polish towns and countryside. He meticulously documented was damages in Warsaw and uprooted Wocław. He always worked for the community, was an organizer of photographic life in Poland, as well as a co-founder and the president of the Vilnius Photo Club (1928) and the Polish Photo Club, and after World War II – the Union of Polish Art Photographers (1947) which still exists. Bułhak’s membership card in the organization has number 1.
He died in 1950 in Giżycko. Reportedly he went there to meet his friends from Vilnius.
Each of his photos is a small work of art. The Vilnius photos of the artist (probably similarly to his photos of Lwów) stimulate a kind of nostalgia in a very special way. Not surprisingly, the message behind these photos keeps convincing and inspiring people emotionally tied with Vilnius, among others, members of Photo Club of the Third Age Academy in Olsztyn who are at the same time members of Friends of Vilnius and Vilnius District in Olsztyn.
Some of them, like Jan Bułhak, left their property, childhood and heart in Lithuania, in Vilnius or near Vilnius.
Tłumaczenie Barbara Szydłowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Barbara Szydłowska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.