Andrzej Pągowski in 2009

An excerpt from a 2009 interview conducted by Dagmara Biernacka with Andrzej Pągowski on designing film posters in Poland:

Andrzej Pągowski: I would sit down to work in the evening and in the morning had a poster, a better one or worse, but it was there. Only sometimes it so happened that I would wake up in the morning, look at it and think, ‘Oh, God!’ and start all over again. In those days there were paints, cardboard, paper, or a piece of plank on which you painted and it had to be done in one go. I was never one of those graphic artists who fell in love with their own paintings. I was most interested in the idea and how it was to be realized. It was fascinating to try and invent the idea, whereas sitting down and realizing it was horribly boring. Today I have the computer, I make the design and the next day I return to it. I work on one thing for several days. Though on the other hand the computer is the tool of the devil, because every few minutes it shows me new things which it had kept hidden away, and by some pure chance something opens up and I like it. There are no rules when you create.

Could you make a living out of designing posters?

Pągowski: Certainly much better than today! Without problems one could earn enough to buy a car. Today there is no such possibility. It was a fantastic profession as far as the money went. I made over 80 posters a year. One poster amounted to one very decent salary. One was then paid for the work. You did not have to keep asking to be paid – there was a list of prices and no one discussed the amount. There was also an awareness that it was unique and that it was important.

There was also a different atmosphere in the social milieu.

Pągowski: First of all, people were friends with each other, they knew each other, they talked and met up. There is no such thing today. Today people sit in their own studios and pray for commissions.

Supposedly, not long ago, we were in second place after Switzerland in terms of poster design.

Pągowski: I suspect that is some kind of PR. For sure the Polish poster had great power in the sixties or seventies. Today the poster is in a niche. If in ’79 or ’80 you went out on the street and asked a passerby for the name of a poster designer, I think there would be people who could mention three or five names. If today you go out on the street and ask for names of graphic artists designing today…well, I would have a problem to name them, and what about the man in the street. When I was still in secondary school and lived in Mokotów where there was a poster pillar nearby, I would get up in the morning with prepared 5 zloties to catch the guy who pasted posters, and ask him for the new poster of Starowieyski. And where today would you encounter such situations? It was the cheapest form of quality graphic art. Now people prefer to go to Ikea and buy a picture with flowers.

What happened to the poster?

Pągowski: With the state sponsorship it was said that each film in Poland had to have two posters: one photographic poster and one graphic one. Additionally it was to have an announcement that it was to appear on the screen. Everyone adjusted to that, no matter whether it was necessary or not. The same poster setting was assigned to a Romanian film as to an immense hit such as ‘Hair’. There was no distinction whatsoever. Today the hit films have gigantic budgets and enormous poster campaigns, whereas a nice film lands somewhere with one poster or without. It used to be that each theatre would have the money for a poster, and each performed play had to have a poser. The same was true for cultural events, festivals, books, or records. Today the distributor does not ask anyone for an opinion, counts his money and says, ‘I have in my studio three boys and they will put together the photographs.’ The graphic poster died, the ambitious projects came to an end, and the photographs of actors sell the films. In the past the poster represented a certain symbolic abbreviation, where I as a graphic artist could introduce the viewer a bit to the atmosphere. Today we have four figures, two smiling faces like in the advertisement for Colgate, and the viewer knows only that they play in this perfomance of the play or this film, and nothing more. Not even the film direction has any influence, even if he is as big as Wajda or Zanussi, or even the producer. The distributor is a holy cow, who says, ‘This is what we must have’. Even if Andrzej Wajda has not got the last word, then that means that no one has it.

— (via Pągowski: Illustrating Films)