Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Apocalypse Now- 1981

Thirty years ago, British photographer Chris Niedenthal took this picture in Warsaw:

A tank An armoured personnel carrier (thanks for the correction, Anonymous!), stationed in front of the 'Moscow' cinema on Puławska, one of Warsaw's largest streets. The movie advertised on the marquee is 'Apocalypse Now'.

Back then, Newsweek published the photo, cropping off the cinema's name. Perhaps the foreign editors, unable to read the marquee, didn't quite understand how the elements of this picture come together to form a striking symbol. As Niedenthal recalls, the rolls of film had to be smuggled out of the socialist state- no explanatory notes could be attached, it was simply too dangerous, even more so that winter.

Because on December 13th 1981, Poland was brought under Martial Law. Tanks rolled out onto the streets, a curfew was instilled, and phone lines were cut, only to be reconnected later with a message announcing to the speaker that 'this conversation is being monitored'. Along came numerous arrests, rationing of food, military control of the news and media, militia checking your papers in the street...and the gruesome deaths of many, many people, both activists and those 'guilty by association', at the hands of the Security Service.

I will write about the Martial Law again- it's a complicated and miserable subject which definitely deserves a closer look. For now, I leave you with this striking image from thirty years ago. How far we have come!

Niedenthal is not the only one who took a photo of that scene, but his picture was published abroad, and is still considered one of the most important images of Poland in the XXth century. Remember it.

Meta information:

Photograph is copyrighted to Chris Niedenthal, reproduced with educational purpose and the intent of Fair Use. 

Wikipedia entry about the Martial Law of 1981-1983

Polish Radio interview with Chris Niedenthal concerning the above photograph:

Chris Niedenthal on Wikipedia:

A book of Niedenthal's photographs taken in the Socialist Republic of Poland and during the martial law 


  1. To nie czołg tylko transporter opancerzony - APC.

  2. Słusznie! Już poprawiam. Laikiem wojskowym jestem :) Dzięki za uwagę!