Photographic reminiscences by Waldek Jerke: “My Near East”

We bring you another past exhibition related to the work of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw. It is “My Middle East”, a collection of photographic impressions by photographer Waldemar Jerke, who has been working for several decades at the PCMA. The exhibition was presented several times in 2007–2012.

As PCMA UW photographer, Waldemar Jerke visited most of the major archaeological sites investigated by the PCMA UW expeditions. He worked, among others in Alexandria and Deir el-Bahari (Egypt), Palmyra (Syria), Nimrud (Iraq), Nea Paphos (Cyprus), and Old Dongola (Sudan). At that time, photographers faced completely different challenges, unknown to those who are working in the era of digital photography. But excavations provided Jerke also with an opportunity to capture scenes from the daily life of both the archaeological expeditions and the people they encountered and lived among. The exhibition shows fragments of this everyday life, photographed from the end of the 1960s until the beginning of the 21st millennium.

From the exhibition folder

Introduction by Prof. Michał Gawlikowski:

“Waldek Jerke began his archaeological career in 1961 as a photographer of the then Chair of Mediterranean Archeology of the University of Warsaw. He immediately joined the quite rich social life of his peers – the students, among whom I was also included. A few years later, we started to meet not only in Krakowskie Przedmieście, but also on excavations. Waldek documented my first independent research in Palmyra, later he spent many years in Egypt, but he also visited Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Cyprus.

When he was about to leave for Egypt for the first time, our common master, Kazimierz Michałowski, set him a trial task: he was to photograph mud on a Warsaw street. The test went well. Since then, thousands of Jerke’s photographs show just as clearly, both, the sometimes inconspicuous, details of archeological everyday life, the objects of art excavated from the ground, and the great buildings of antiquity. They also portray, with understanding and sensitivity, the people who worked with us. This exhibition contains a small sample of my friend’s talent. For almost half a century he contributed greatly to the successes, and shred the difficulties, and joys of several generations of Mediterranean archaeologists.”

Waldek Jerke on his work:

“It was 1961. I graduated from the Phototechnical School in Warsaw and received a photographer’s diploma with a specialization in technical photography. I started looking for a job and, by a lucky coincidence, I received an offer from Professor Kazimierz Michałowski. I was to become a photographer at the then Chair of Mediterranean Archeology of the University of Warsaw.

On the one hand, working at the University of Warsaw with a famous archaeologist was a distinction for a newly-minted photographer and a promise of exotic journeys with Polish archaeological expeditions. But on the other, it initially consisted of the, rather mundane, preparation of teaching aids and sometimes, as if for a treat, photographing original monuments ancient art, located in Polish museums. Only after years of such work and a positive assessment of my skills, the Professor offered me a trip to our Cairo Station as a photographer documenting the field work of our archaeologists in the Middle East.

I was extremely happy and curious about how I would do in the field, how I would endure the heat and difficult conditions. The tremendous effect was the fact that among my predecessors in this role there were some great photographers, whom I now had to match. ‘I had to work at the station for two years, I have stayed to this day. I have worked with our archaeologists but also collaborated with many foreign expeditions. I have fond memories of cooperation with Germans, Belgians, and Egyptians. These 45 years have resulted in the collection of about 5,000 slides and negatives in my private library, which are a testimony of my work, in which my faithful friend – a camera – accompanied me. Thanks to it, I was able to capture the situations that I would like to show at least partially in a modest exhibition of about 65 photograms. I can implement it thanks to the favor and acceptance of the authorities of the University of Warsaw, and thanks to my supervisor – prof. Piotr Bieliński.”