The first Polish original presentation of photographs as part of this year’s edition of the Month of Photography in Bratislava will be the works of a Polish photographer and press photographer of Jewish descent, Julia Pirotte (1907–2000). The curator of the exhibition is Teresa Śmiechowska from the Jewish Historical Institute. The exhibition is organized in cooperation with the Polish Institute in Bratislava. The exhibition will be open till 29th November.
A year before her death, Julia Pirotte had donated her modest archival collection to the Jewish Historical Institute. It consists primarily of a few hundred pictures of her authorship. Most of the photographs come from the forties and fifties. Only some of them were taken later. I myself possess one more of her photos from the late seventies. It presents my two-year-old daughter. Julia Pirotte took it at the request of my mother, Anna Kamieńska. They talked with each other many times. The fate of Mindla Diament, Julia’s sister, made a huge impression on me. She dedicated a poem to her which we published in our album. Probably many more photos by Julia Pirotte are in private hands. We know that she was the first photojournalist who was in Kielce just after the pogrom in 1946. Most of the photographs taken by her at the time — and there were over a hundred — were confiscated by the Office of Security.
Probably, they were destroyed. In addition to the photos, in the cardboard box with treasures collected by Pirotte during her long, lasting more than ninety years life, there are still a couple of books, three French medals and documents of her second husband, who spent twenty-one years at Soviet camps. There is also a folder containing her typewritten reports from Kielce in 1946, as well as newspaper clippings of poems of Polish and Jewish poets.
Julia Pirotte’s photos were shown in Belgium, France and the United States, and in the eighties also in Poland. However, they did not gain wide publicity. I suppose that their author was a very humble person and did not know how to take care of a wider public presence of her works. Presented collection of photographs includes remarkable portraits, in which images of faces are complemented by the hands of the photographed. Hands can say a lot about a person.
Pirotte took many pictures of reportage photographs, depicting soldiers of the French resistance movement, workers, kibbutzniks. And pictures of old women and children, portraits of Tuwim, Picasso, Edith Piaf, Eluard, sister Mindla, as if sculpted in light and half-tones, are those which appeal to me the most.
I am glad that the Jewish Historical Institute has the opportunity to remind the general public of Julia Pirotte and her wonderful photographs.
Director of the Jewish Historical Institute