An interview with Michel Szulc Krzyzanowski by Lise Koch.
When did you start to make pictures?
My father is from Lvov, Poland and like his own father, he had as a hobby photography. He had a camera and made pictures of his children and had an improvised darkroom in our house. He knew how to print pictures. My father was a very interesting man who had a remarkable life. He was educated as an engineer and was working up to 1939 as a designer of agriculture equipment in Lvow participating in the rich social and cultural life there. At the time, Lvov was a cosmopolitan town with not only Polish inhabitants, but also a large Jewish community, Russians, French and German. There was an opera, theatres and museums. Being in the centre of Europe it was also at the crossroads of political shifts taking place at the time. My grandfather lived in Chorodow, a small town near Lvov, and was the administrator of the local sugar factory. It was a big family: my grandparents had 7 children. My grandmother was an artistic person. As a wedding present she received from her new husband a German piano. This piano is still in the family, currently with my cousin in Jaworzno. One Aunt was a very good painter. Another Aunt a very good piano player. It was a family with a rich cultural life. Besides his job, my grandfather was an amateur photographer. He had a large camera with glass plates as negatives and a darkroom in the house. Coincidentally, my grandfather of my mother’s side was also an amateur-photographer with his own darkroom. My Polish grandfather died rather young of a wrongly treated kidney problem. Fortunately, he had arranged a good life insurance and the family never suffered financially. In 1939 the family was chased away from Lvov by the Soviets and settled partly in Warsaw, the capital of Poland and partly in the South of Poland. My father, who was a reserve-officer in the Polish army was mobilised in 1939 because Poland was attacked in the West by the Nazis and in the East by the Soviets. He was captured by the Soviets and put in the freight train with many other Polish officers to be transported to the forest of Katyn, near the village of Gnezdovo. In that forest 8.000 Polish officers were massacred by the Soviets. During the train ride to Katin my father got suspicious and managed to open the wooden floor. When the train slowed down he dropped himself from the wagon and escaped. Only 3 Polish officers were able to avoid the massacre. After the Polish army had been overrun by the Nazi and Soviet hordes they were ordered to make their escape individually to Biarritz, in the South of France, to regroup. He fond his way through Rumania and Greece where he got on a boat to end up eventually in Biarritz. Now being a full time soldier he had to fight the Nazis when they attacked France in 1940 and managed later to escape to England from Dunkerque. In 1944 he landed in Normandy as a tank commander and liberated many towns. He fought basically from the beaches from France to the north of Germany where in 1945 the war came to an end. The Polish soldiers had been promised they would fight all the way to Poland and return home in that peculiar way, but they were fooled by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin who already on February 4, 1945 in Yalta had decided that the Soviet Union was going to have Poland as a vassal state.
My father was forced to remain in the West of Europe.
When he noticed I was very curious about his activities of printing pictures in the darkroom he let me witness the magic of a piece of paper in a basin with liquid in strange yellow light having an image appear out of nowhere. Being 6 years old that was an amazing experience. Around that time he also gave me my first camera. I was his favourite child. It was a Kodak Brownie. He also supplied me with enough films. I made pictures in the big garden surrounding our house. And of my beautiful sisters. Of family festivities. If I ran out of film, I would snatch someone else’s camera and make pictures with that. Eventually they had to hide their cameras for me because they knew I would use them. As of the age of 6 I make pictures. Thanks to my father. That is how I started.
How is it to still make pictures?
This is one of the things that amazes me and at the same time makes me feel jubilant and privileged. Each time I make pictures it is like the first time. I am totally excited. Enthusiastic. Crazy and wild to do it. Happy and exuberant. I still love to make pictures. Do it almost every day. Still completely fascinated by that medium. In the last 51 years I must have made hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pictures but I still run like a chased rabbit to make the next one.
For more information on the city of Lvov, click on:
For more information on the Kodak Brownie camera, click on:
For more information on the Soviet war crime of Katyn, click on:
For more information on the Yalta conference, click on: