“How to Look Natural in Photos” curated by Beata Bartecka & Łukasz Rusznica collects in a reasoned sequence (among the sections: photography as evidence / photography as denunciation / photography as threat) a selection of images from the archives of the Institute of National Memory (IPN), which investigates the history of Poland between the beginning of the twentieth century and the fall of the totalitarian system.
Walker Evans, between 1938 and 1941, shot a series of portraits secretly in the New York subway, using a camera concealed in the double-breasted coat. He himself later explained that those images were “his idea of what a portrait should be: an anonymous, documentary and direct image of humanity’”.
The purpose of the surveillance agents was radically different. There was no goal of knowing the people being filmed or photographed; the only intent was to subject them to strict control.
For years, access to these images was reserved for a very narrow circle of officials directly involved in the cases; today they are historical documents that have become part of Polish visual culture.
Having become examples of how photography can shift completely away from its original meaning, only the images themselves can answer the question of their nowadays significance. And it’s not just about ethics and aesthetics, but it also includes the multitude of social, cultural, and political meanings they have incorporated and embodied.