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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » March 29, 2012
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Karol Beyer—Warsaw’s First Photojournalist
March 29, 2012   
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Karol Beyer—First Photographs of Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, the latest outdoor photographic exhibition on Ks. Jana Twardowskiego Square in Warsaw, showcases the work of Karol Beyer (1818-1877).

Beyer was the precursor of professional press photography in Poland and the finest photographer of the Kingdom of Poland in the late 1850s and early 1860s. He was the first writer and journalist to enclose photographs with stories he wrote for the press. His pictures documented life in the capital of the Kingdom of Poland, which was established in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna and completely subordinate to the Russian Empire.

The exhibition, organized by the History Meeting House—National Museum in Warsaw, takes viewers on a walk along 19th-century Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, all the way from the Staszic Palace to Zamkowy Square. In 1857-1867, Beyer had a studio housed in a building on the corner of Karowa and Krakowskie Przedmieście streets, a convenient location from which to document both the busy life of the street and patriotic demonstrations suppressed by the Russian authorities. Krakowskie Przedmieście, the most important street in Warsaw at the time, is prominently visible in the pictures, together with buildings which are no longer there or which have changed completely.

Beyer started his adventure with photography, a new profession, at the tender age of 21 after hearing news from Paris about the invention of the daguerreotype. He went on to take pictures for the next 23 years, taking portraits of Polish people and using his photosensitive plates to record the expansion of Warsaw. Beyer was one of the founders of the Tygodnik Ilustrowany (Illustrated Weekly) magazine. His work includes valuable photographic reportage on tumultuous patriotic demonstrations in Warsaw in 1861, documenting the atmosphere of oppression during martial law, imposed by the Russian authorities on the Kingdom of Poland. Beyer’s patriotic activities, including his photography, earned him a prison sentence and he was deported to Russia.

The Beyer Photography Studio, established in 1845, was both a studio and a gallery which Varsovians visited to see the latest accomplishments of European photography. Beyer had his photographs printed in the Polish and foreign press and also published a book entitled Views of the Capital City of Warsaw. In order to refine his techniques, he made several trips to France, Belgium and Britain and regularly took part in international exhibitions. In 1855, Beyer became a member of the Société francaise de photographie in France. At the end of his life, he was forced to close his studio down, in part due to financial problems caused by his two-year enforced exile in Russia, but he still kept taking photographs.

The History Meeting House, National Museum in Warsaw, recently published a coffee table book entitled Karol Beyer 1818-1877 (available in English), launching a series of monographic publications on outstanding Warsaw photographers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Until Aug. 31

Karol Beyer—First Photographs of Krakowskie Przedmieście Street
Ks. Jana Twardowskiego Square at the intersection of Karowa
and Krakowskie Przedmieście streets
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