FOTOTEKA – digitisation of photographic materials


The archiving of paper photographic materials i.e. classic stills has been an ongoing process at the National Film Archive since it was founded. Before 1939 there was no institution to gather them all together, so the collection of pre-war stills had to be started from scratch, in the hope that photos had been preserved in large numbers in the private collections of former cinema owners or filmgoers. Today, there are about 2 000 pre-war stills held in the National Film Archive.  

The most valuable collection is the set of post-war negatives of stills that the Feature Film Studio in Łódź gave to the National Film Archive in three tranches in 1974, 1987 and 1993.These are the original media from which paper prints were made years ago. These negatives represent almost all of the material that still photographers took on the sets of Polish films produced in Łódź after 1946. The collection consists of many tens of thousands of frames, including many that have never been reproduced or published. The collection includes, among others, stills negatives for films by Andrzej Wajda, Kazimierz Kutz, Stanisław Bareja, Janusz Morgenstern, Andrzej Munk, Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Zanussi and Tadeusz Chmielewski. For each of the films, several hundred frames made on the set by the still photographer were collected. The National Film Archive also has a collection of negatives from film set still photographers: Tadeusz Kubiak, Romuald Pieńkowski, Roman Sumik and Jerzy Troszczyński and negatives from the Se-Ma-For Studio [Small Film Forms Studio] and the Studio Miniatur Filmowych [Film Miniatures Studio]. The Film Archive stores approximately one million negative frames.


The Fototeka was set up in order to build up these collections over the long term. The digitisation of negatives, diapositives and stills prints began in 2006 and included all the collections. The National Film Archive was the first among the many cultural institutions to start and implement a similar project, purchasing specialised equipment and creating a separate department the Iconographic Collections Digitisation and Internet Information Team. Photos are digitised from a wide variety of media, from 100-year-old glass negatives for the film "Ludzie bez jutra" [People With No Tomorrow] (dir. Aleksander Hertz, 1919) to negatives and diapositives in 18x24, 9x6, 6x6 cm and 35 mm formats. Scans are also made of paper prints, advertising stills and film postcards. The Fototeka also receives digital photos, which have been replacing traditional photographs for several years.

The Fototeka service, i.e. the virtual photo album of the history of Polish film, was launched on 18 November 2009 and it has gradually made more and more digitised images available online. Each of them is assigned to a specific film title, its year of production, people or events in the field of film culture and with its own description: the name of the director, the person shown in the picture, their functions and roles, keywords, the copyright owner, the cinematographer etc. Not all the filmmakers or actors visible in the film stills or the on-the-set production stills are easily or immediately recognisable, which is why the Fototeka conducts extensive consultations with people from the film industry to help them identify their former colleagues and associates.

The Fototeka website quickly gained many loyal fans, becoming a valuable source of illustrations for various periodicals and publications. In fact, there is probably no book today on the subject of Polish cinema which would not feature a photo from the Fototeka. The site has been recognised by the film community, and it has twice been nominated, in 2010 and 2011, for the Polish Film Institute Awards in the category of Best Internet Portal. The third time it was nominated, in 2012, it won the Polish Film Institute Award in this category.

On the website, there are over 180 000 digitised images from the collection of the National Film Archive.

"Oto foto" [Here's a Photo]

Since the history of Polish movie stills photography is awaiting detailed study, the Fototeka, almost from its inception, has been conducting research into this area of Polish photography. The research relies primarily on determining the takers of film stills (usually they were not mentioned by name in the film credits) and tracing the history of how movie stills photography was shaped in Poland, its conventions, connection with the vision of the director and its role in the promotion of the film. The results of these findings are available in the Oto Foto section of the website.

Moreover, thanks to the diversity of the constantly expanding collection of photographs available on the site, it can recreate many essential aspects of Polish cinema: the way directors work on the set, the presence of the filmmakers at festivals and premieres and the most famous film stills. In this way, the Fototeka has become the most complete photographic representation of Polish cinema.