• Cccccwn
  • Cold_war_neon-154
  • Cold_war_neon-158
  • Cold_war_neon-164
  • Cwn
  • Cold_war_neon-166
  • Cold_war_neon-174
  • Cold_war_neon-179
  • Cold_war_neon-191
  • Cold_war_neon-183
  • Cwneon1

Ilona Karwinska: Polish Cold War Neon

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Neon’s renaissance as the glitzy, gaudy go-to medium of artists like Tracey Emin is only one side of the material’s story. Photographer Ilona Karwinska, a graduate of Goldsmiths and The London College of Printing, is obsessed with its use in Poland, as weary signs of a country’s dreams left unfulfilled. Her beautiful new book Polish Cold War Neon collects hundreds of her most eye-catching images, and in this exclusive extract from the book’s foreword she explains her mission to preserve her country’s neon heritage.

“During a visit to Warsaw in 2005, something quite unexpected caught my eye – the remnants of another time – a rather lonely, yet monumental sign, “Dancing Restauracja,” which ran the entire length of the Prudential building, and the welcoming glow of the fully working neon “Berlin” near Constitution Square.

“Curiously still advertising goods, services, and products long gone, these fascinating signs inspired me to begin documenting Cold War era neon signs, in a project I entitled Polish Neon. After comprehensively photographing in the capital, I then set off on a journey throughout Poland in search of more evidence of a once grand plan to illuminate the entire country with neon.

“From the start, what remained of these neon graphics absolutely captivated me. Was it the unique typefaces, symbols ,and craftsmanship, or was it the evident neglect and decay that prompted me to document and ultimately try to preserve these signs? I soon learned that what was happening in Warsaw was being repeated in other cities: these neon signs were disappearing rapidly. As I travelled through Poland’s towns and cities “hunting neons” I occasionally accepted defeat and left empty handed.

“All too often, it seemed that no one else noticed the neons until there were barely any left. Whenever I came upon a discarded sign, or one earmarked for destruction, I would set about salvaging what I could, Over the years, my collection of images and neon lettering grew until a storage space was needed. This was to be the foundation of the first Neon Museum in Poland.

“My project is dedicated to the many designers, draftsmen, and neon makers of this extraordinary time. This is their story.”

This foreword is reproduced with permission from the artist and the publishers.

The book is available at www.amazon.co.uk/polishcoldwarneon


Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. Wrecking-yardtop

    Riley wanted to be like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when he grew up; he wanted to hunt for treasure and go on adventures. Riley’s never forgotten the magical lure of finding hidden pennies and bottle tops, silver and scraps, and when scavenging he finds himself transformed into a mythical adventurer like a character in a tale by Mark Twain.

  2. Main

    Where do dreams come true? “Disneyland!” squeal the indoctrinated masses. Sadly, the dream’s over for the exhibits of Yesterland, which is a photo archive of rides, restaurants and rodeos which are no more. Or, as Yesterland likes to style itself, “a theme park on the web.”

  3. Kk7list

    There’s something wonderfully honest about Kieran Kesner’s portraits of Ukraine. His camera acknowledges there’s a civil war tearing the country apart – there are protests and soldiers and guns and casualties – but this isn’t the sum total of what is happening there. There are still priests saying prayers and farmers plucking potatoes from the fields and cyclists on their bikes; what we see on the news is only part of the story Kieran suggests.

  4. List

    South African photographer Dillon Marsh has long been drawn to themes that touch on environmentalism and our relationship with the world around us, and in recent years these interests have become more pronounced.

  5. Main

    Let’s get this straight, Anna Victoria Best’s work is maybe some of the most exciting photography I’ve ever seen. That may sound like a total exaggeration but it’s true – it is not often that someone’s work is so consistently brilliant throughout an entire portfolio, or that a few simple portraits can hold such a huge amount of power. If I wasn’t taken with the photos of Ashley Williams (which I was, a lot) then the fashion editorial shoot for Varon was like the photographic equivalent of pudding. You can almost hear those shoes squeaking on the lino as they do the Twist.

  6. List

    Love it or loathe it, mobile phone photography is entrenched in our modern media culture. But it’s facile to lump this ever-growing phenomenon under a single umbrella, encompassing as it does everything from hipsters’ obsession with Instagramming their burgers to the vital role of smartphone-wielding citizen journalists in conflicts around the world. In recognition of the increasing importance of mobile phone photography and the numerous narratives intertwined with it, the British Journal of Photography has launched fltr, which bills itself as “the only magazine dedicated to mobile photographers.”

  7. List

    In the last couple of weeks the professional football season has returned in all its overhyped glory, but for thousands of amateurs around the UK it’s the start of the Sunday League season that really matters.

  8. List

    Photographer Viviane Sassen has crafted an aesthetic which operates way beyond the traditional confines of her medium. She’s previously made work which would be considered fashion photography, for example, but in which the clothes featured never seem to be the driving force behind the image. Similarly, her latest series Axiom toys with notions of light, colour and illusion in a way which seems to lean towards graphic art, but each image meshes the three elements together so effortlessly that you scarcely have time to ponder the idea behind it.

  9. Main9

    In an untidy apartment in Milan, a lion roars. Nearby, an armadillo sniffs a pile of papers. An ibex is fed up; he can’t see very well for all the bubble wrap around his head. But these aren’t escapees from the zoo; they’re a failed diorama.

  10. Main

    Hey there’s a big floppy pepperoni on that Palomino! Most days I’d find the idea of wasted pizza an atrocity not worthy of further promotion, but I guess this photo series is kind of different. In a somewhat strange diversion from his otherwise rather professional work, this photographer has chosen to take countless pizzas into the great outdoors and capture them against the backdrop of the natural world. Jonpaul Douglass, whose name is a little like someone drunkenly writing John Paul Douglas, has snapped the humble pizza on sun loungers, in bushes, draped over basketball hoops, and even clinging for dear life over the barrel of a military tank. Why is this good? It just is; the quality of the photos is terrific, and ten extra points to Jonpaul who braved looking mega-weird in public to get these shots.

  11. Main3

    Canadian-born photographer Stephanie Noritz lives and works in New York where she freelances for the likes of Monocle, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dazed and Confused and New York Magazine amongst others. Her imagery is defined by sharp lighting, relaxed atmosphere and – most importantly – a youthful subject matter – whether that’s kids skating vert ramps or fast-paced little league games.

  12. Main6

    “AMERICA: Who Stole The Dream?” reads a poster in the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Amid towering piles of papers and notepads, styrofoam coffee cups and creaking, half-broken office chairs, this is the question asked by photographer and writer Will Steacy.

  13. Image-11

    Here at It’s Nice That we spend an awful lot of time talking about, thinking about and writing about creatives but ultimately we don’t get too many chances to really see what goes on in their day-to-day working lives…until now. Our new collaboration with super-cool eyewear brand Ace & Tate – who believe in great design and ultimate customer choice – is taking us inside the studios, and inside the minds, of a host of some of our favourite creatives.