Magical 'now and then’ photos of Warsaw reveal beauty of a city that once was
A striking set of “then and now” photographs of Warsaw based upon a series of ten images first shot in 1873 offering a beautiful portrayal of the city that once was, have been made publicly available by the Warsaw Rising Museum.
Surfacing courtesy of a mystery benefactor, the pictures were first taken by Konrad Brandel, a prolific photographer, camera maker and inventor.
Recognized as one of the city’s first true photographers, Brandel took advantage of repairs to the Royal Castle’s clock tower to scale the scaffolding and shoot what is thought to be only the second 360 degree panorama ever taken of the city.
Representing the museum’s Iconography Department, Ryszard Mączewski told TFN that the anonymous donation was nothing short of “a miracle”: “It was pure luck that we received these in the first place,” he said, “and a miracle that these photographs survived not just the war, but everything that happened on either side. They are truly unique.”
Despite falling outside the museum’s usual wartime remit, such is the historical value attached to them that it was never in doubt that they would be utilized in one way or another.
“Obviously photographs from the war have been traditionally our focus,” says Mączewski, “but we do also place an importance on collecting images from the pre-war and post-war periods as they allow for a wider look at the city.”
Known to have been taken on August 26th, 1873, the photos were shot between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. from the very top of the clock tower.
“Two things make this collection incredibly special,” says Mączewski. “First, we know he took ten photos, so to have the full set authenticated by Brandel’s dry seal is great. Secondly, they’re all in incredibly good condition.”
Staggering in their clarity, the level of detail is made all the more spectacular given the rudimentary methods Brandel would have employed.
“We presume he was working with glass negatives and having to process each photograph immediately after taking it, something we think would have taken him around 15 minutes,” says Mączewski.
“With so little time, we’re assuming he would have had help but we don’t know how many assistants he may have had.”
More noticeable, the simplicity of Brandel’s technical apparatus has bestowed the series with one surreal feature: an almost total lack of pedestrians.
“It’s not like today where you click a button and instantly have an image,” says Mączewski. “Brandel was using a long exposure process that would have taken around a minute. That meant that moving people wouldn’t have appeared.”
Though ghost-like in its emptiness, Brandel’s Warsaw is not completely bereft of people, and keen-eyed spotters will find six individuals standing on the roof of the Stanisławowska Library, a vendor in the shadows of St. John’s Cathedral and two indistinct figures on the corner of the Old Town Square and ul. Zapiecek.
“One of the brilliant things about these images is being able to hunt for sentient things like people and horses,” says Mączewski.
Compelling as this is, even more intriguing is identifying and comparing the city’s landmarks and copious changes.
Aiding this experience, and allowing for direct comparisons, the museum has set Brandel’s pictures against those taken in the present in the form of both standalone pictures and so-called ‘sliders’.
“It took us about an hour to get the images from ‘now’,” says Mączewski. “We had a drone operator working alongside a cameraman and it was great fun trying to ensure that the angles were as accurate as possible.”
Using these pictures from the present day as a reference point, the changes that Warsaw has undergone become all the more striking.
“For example, St. John’s Cathedral has a totally different façade,” says Mączewski. “You can also see three houses standing where today Miodowa connects with Krakowskie Przedmieście; notice, too, things like the old Kierbedzia Bridge or the Synagogue on the corner of what was then Petersburska and Szeroka streets (now Jagiellońska and Kłopotowskiego).”
Unsurprisingly, the images have quickly gone viral.
“I think that’s because there’s a real magic in seeing this city that no longer exists,” says Mączewski. “It’s almost as if you are stepping inside the past.”