Beyond the Familial Impulse: Domestic Photography and Sociocultural History in Post-communist Poland, 1989-1996




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Peer reviewed



In 1994 the Jewish-Polish Shalom Foundation announced a photographic contest whose intention was to reconstruct the social and cultural histories of Polish Jews who lived in the geographical region of Poland before, during and after the Second World War. For this purpose the Foundation invited contributions from the public. Its initiative emerged shortly after the 1989 collapse of the communist regime in Poland, and alongside other similar projects that reflected the desire of Poland’s ethnic minorities to salvage their sociocultural histories – histories the communist government had virtually erased from the country’s formal historiography. In a short period of time the Foundation received more than seven thousand annotated photographs in response to its public appeal, most of which emanated from domestic photographic collections. As scholars interrogating domestic photography do not often have access to empirical data about the practices it entails, in this article we consider the Foundation photographic collection as a resource preserving invaluable information about the diverse uses and perceptions of photography in the sociocultural sphere. Yet, whereas existing scholarly literature in the field of photography studies tends to frame domestic photography with reference to affectionate familial behaviors allegedly common in democratic states, we introduce the Foundation collection as a case study that sheds light on domestic photographs created and maintained in a sociocultural environment that did not see democracy before 1989. Analyzing and discussing the various ways in which the photographs’ owners saw the photographs’ relationships with the broader politically unstable reality that has enclosed their production and preservation, our study diversifies some of the meanings and functions current literature often associates with domestic photographic collections.


We would like to thank Philip Cox, Elizabeth Edwards and Marta Leśniakowska for supporting and facilitating our cross-institutional collaboration. We are also grateful to Gołda Tencer-Szurmiej and Ewa Pałuba for granting us access to the Shalom Foundation photographic collection. All the photographs reproduced in the article are part of the collection And I still See Their Faces, courtesy of Gołda Tencer-Szurmiej, General Director of the Shalom Foundation in Poland. The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


photography, domestic photography, domestic photographic collections, Polish Jews, Poland’s ethnic minorities, Polish collective memory, photography contest, Shalom Foundation, And I Still See Their Faces, photographic history


Pasternak, G. and Ziętkiewicz, M. (2017) Beyond the Familial Impulse: Domestic Photography and Sociocultural History in Post-communist Poland, 1989-1996. Photography & Culture 10 (2), Special Issue: Seeing Family, pp. 121-145


Research Institute

Media Discourse Centre (MDC)
Institute of Art and Design