A history in photographs: “Nowa Huta – Krakow’s Youngest Sister”

There has always been something about Nowa Huta that has drawn me to its seemingly unattractive underbelly. Rarely can I put a finger on it, in want of factual backup as to what actually makes me catch a tram out there just to “hang.” The socio-realist architecture is amazing, but falling apart. Plac Centralny could be better if Lenin still actually stood on it. The trams that go out there are the old commy ones, too ugly to be left circulating around Krakow. The steel works operation itself is hardly comparable to the productivity of its heyday. And the unemployment rate, well, may lend a helping hand to the high crime rate and bored drunken youths around Huta’s street corners on a weeknight. Yet there is still something that draws me to it. Unlike the prettiness of historical Krakow, Nowa Huta is raw and pumping with a modern history you literally feel when you walk its street. You can smell the resistance of the 1980s, imagine the anticipation and hope of the utopian aspirations of the fifties, be in awe of the sheer industrial scale and pride of the citizens who helped build it in the 1960s. When you?re there, you almost begin to understand why the socialist dream was so convincing and powerful. Almost.

An excellent way to begin to understand this phenomenal place and its people is seeing the current photo exhibition “Nowa Huta – najmlodsza siostra Krakowa” (“Nowa Huta – Krakow’s Youngest Sister”) currently on display. From now until September 20 you can go and peep into this city’s amazing history documented in photographs at pl. Centralny as well as at the Nowohuckie Centrum Kultury (Nowa Huta Cultural Center). Both places are exhibiting photographs spanning from the 19th Century until today, showing the transformation of the area and its people. There is no entry fee for the outdoor exhibition at pl. Centralny or for the display within the centre.

Walking through the exhibition organised and curated by Adam Gryczynski, I was in awe of how dramatically the region changed. From the 19th Century photographs depicting the rich agricultural area with its noble farming proprietor families, to the documentation of the industrial strength that was the Soviet machine, up until Nowa Huta’s own slow downfall shown both by its ecological demise and by the Solidarity movement.

Gryczynski has put together photographs from the Krakowian Photography Club archives as well as from private collections of renowned photographers and photo reporters such as Wesolowski, Ziemianski, Bujak and Boron. He has combined images of proud labourers building a beast that promised them the unattainable, along with images displaying seething open sewage pipes, chimneys producing acid-rain clouds and decrepit concrete-slab apartment blocks. There are images of normal life, Trabants, dance-halls, local fashions of the time, as well as of the resistance marches and the ultimate collapse. The photos on display at the Cultural Centre depict this transformation even more so, while pl. Centralny pays homage to the more symbolic moments of the city.

Once you have seen enough of renovated tenement houses of Rynek Glowny and drunken enough Zywiec to make an Irish man blush, catch a No. 4 tram to pl. Centralny and get a glimpse of a city that was one of the industrial gems of the Block.
The exhibition runs until September 20.

The Nowohuckie Centru Kultury is on aleja Jana Pawla II 232, www.nck.krakow.pl. The photography book of the exhibition “Nowa Huta – najmlodsza siostra Krakowa” is available from the Cultural Centre for 40 zloty – queries to nck@nck.krakow.pl

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