Wojciech Plewiński turned ordinary girls into superstars. He began creating a fascinating artistic compendium of femininity in all its consumerist glory
In Praise of the Ordinary Girls
Wojciech Plewiński turned ordinary girls into superstars with his photography. Born in 1928, Plewiński trained as an architect, but soon turned his hand to photography and in his 33 years as chief photographer for culture and lifestyle magazine Przekrój, he transformed the careers of hundreds of women.
Przekrój was the first Polish publication to feature photographs of women on its cover and much of the magazine’s success was down to Plewinski, who was chief photographer from 1957 to 1990. After World War II, there was a national trend which saw females portrayed according to the conventions of social realism, with magazines depicting women as farmers, workers, tractor drivers and housewives. However Plewinski built on a post-thaw optimism and began creating a fascinating artistic compendium of femininity in all its consumerist glory.
The models in Plewiński’s photo shoots were both fresh and intriguing. Sexy and often somewhat androgynous-looking, the girls submitted themselves fully to the desires of the heterosexual male gaze. The models who featured on the pages of Przekrój soon become known as kociaki, meaning 'kittens'. The term became something of a badge of honour for models, regardless of whether their sensual images made the cover or not.
Images of the girls were regularly used to ‘decorate’ the extremely popular crossword pages, too. This gave the illusion of a free market economy, considered by many to be a better and highly desirable feature of the Free World. The kociaki were ostensibly used to increase sales of the magazine. In reality, the magazine’s popularity was already so great that customers would clamour to get their hands on a copy and shops quickly sold out.
Many stars of Polish cinema began their careers as models on the pages of Przekrój, including Anna Seniuk and Anna Dymna, both of whom modelled when they were still at drama school. The magazine even ran a competition for budding models entitled “From the pages of Przekrój to the big screen”. One winner, Ewa Krzyżewska, went on to become a star, proving that becoming a kociak could be a springboard to a successful career.
The photographs in Przekrój frequently featured ordinary girls, discovered by Plewiński on trams and in shops and cafés. The photographer would find and style the models himself—he even did their makeup. Though they look spontaneous and despite the lack of a professional crew, Plewiński’s photographs are meticulously composed and astonishingly detailed, with carefully selected backdrops—a wall, a sofa, a light switch—and fashionable clothes taken straight from Plewiński’s wife’s wardrobe. Wojciech Plewiński’s models, show us, in detail, how fashionable women dressed during the Communist era. The photographs are important not only as historical documents, but as images which defined the pop culture of that age.