NIEDENTHAL CHOPIN - From Martial Law to Fryderyk Chopin - Book Launch at the 101 Project Gallery of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland

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NIEDENTHAL CHOPIN - From Martial Law to Fryderyk Chopin 
Book Launch at the 101 Project Gallery of Modern Art
On the closing evening of the Chopin i Jego Europa Festival  I noticed a melee in the foyer of the Filharmonia. Who did I see but the famous Polish photographer Chris Niedenthal signing copies of his 'fresh off the press' book NIEDENTHAL CHOPIN - The 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition. He had been contracted by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute to cover the 2015 competition in photographs. 

This exciting moment was followed a couple of weeks later (September 8th) by the official book launch (cocktails, vodka, snacks) at the strikingly attractive, industrially deconstructed 101 Project Gallery of Modern Art in Central Warsaw - at 4 Nowogrodzka Street. There was also a recital of Chopin by the talented young pianists Krzysztof Markiewicz and Katarzyna Mróz. 

Appropriately for a Niedenthal event the police were present initially with agitated and tense expressions - they soon relaxed and disappeared after realizing it was merely an innocent 'happening' and no tanks likely to appear.

A portrait of Chris Niedenthal at the book launch
Chris Niedenthal is a British-born Polish photographer. He has lived in Poland since 1973, when he came to visit for a few months and stayed, eventually covering all the events that happened in the country after the 1978 election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II. For Newsweek he photographed the strike in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in 1980, the rise of the Solidarity movement, the imposition of martial law in December 1981 and later, as a contract photographer for TIME magazine covering Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, he documented the world-changing events of 1989 both in Poland and the neighbouring socialist bloc countries.

He has published several photographic books on the socialist years of Poland’s history. He lives and works in Warsaw.

This picture taken at great personal risk by Chris Niedenthal in front of the now demolished Moskwa Cinema in Warsaw (showing at that time Francis Ford Coppola's  Apocalypse Now)  during the imposition of Martial Law in Poland in 1981.

This became an 'iconic image' of that truly great character trait of all Poles


This is a quality that suffuses so much of Fryderyk Chopin's music

The Polish composer has always been regarded by coercive political regimes as a subversive force and his music censored

There are many wonderfully unposed, spontaneous photographs in here capturing the fleeting and strong emotions of a fiercely contested piano competition.

The book is superbly designed in large format, finely matt printed in excellent colour on heavy art paper in a slip case with two marker ribbons

Cartier Bresson eat your heart out!

Surely a ground-breaking book

Chris wrote this account of the genesis - the how and why - of the project for me which I pass on to my readers.

The invitation to photograph the competition for a book came out of the blue during the summer of 2015. Having been a political photographer for most of my professional life, the idea of spending 3 weeks cooped up in the Warsaw Philharmonic sounded a bit dismaying. It was however, an invitation I could not, of course, refuse. And 3 weeks in the concert hall it was. 

It turned out to be - rather obviously I can say with hindsight -  a marvellous, scintillating experience. Watching almost 80 young people from all over the world doing their best to try to win this exceptional competition was something many a photographer could only dream of. Catching all the emotions was my main objective: those of the young players; those of the experienced, “battle-worn” jury members; those of the audience and yes, even my own emotions. I am no expert on classical music, and certainly not on Chopin. For me, the contestants all appeared to be playing well. But I had absolutely no problem with listening to Chopin’s beautiful music for 3 weeks virtually non-stop.

Actually photographing the whole spectacle was not all that simple. To start with, you have to contend with the fact that all the contestants tend to be highly-strung: hardly surprising, of course. So the presence of a photographer is not something they relish. Shooting the recitals and auditions was not too easy for the simple reason that you cannot move around. During practice sessions yes, that was possible, within reason. Otherwise, you chose your position (from the balconies, from the stalls, or from the stage behind a TV camera} and you could not budge before the playing was over. To get away from just shooting in and around the concert hall I managed to persuade a few of the contestants to go to a nearby cafe or just for a walk around the city. In the end, the results are in the book that has just been published. Hopefully, I managed to capture the unique atmosphere of the competition. Luckily for me, this will be a memory I will cherish for a long, long time. 

                                                                                                                                     Chris Niedenthal

One of the rooms of this extraordinarily imaginative art gallery
The rare and historic Swedish Malmsjö baby grand piano on which the recital was given.
The pianist  
Krzysztof Markiewicz  on the far left about to begin
The opening address by the 'main men' - held in the street outside the gallery with passing cars brushing coat tails - very modern and chic indeed

Lt. to Rt. Stanisław Leszczyński (Deputy Director of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute), Leszek Szurkowski (Book Designer) and Chris Niedenthal  (as ever behind his Leica)

Chris Niedenthal in the midst of the melee of admirers outside the 101 Project Gallery

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