A fishing boy


Title: A fishing boy

Author: Wojciech Buyko (1882 – ca 1942)

Created in: the 1920s-1930s

Kept at: Walery Rzewuski Museum of History of Photography in Krakow

The photograph has the shape of a horizontally lying rectangle. The entire image is greenish-grey, almost flat. In the background, visible above the boy’s head is a narrow strip of the opposite bank of the river, covered with low vegetation. Nearly the entire photo is taken up by the surface of still water, only slightly rippled in a few places. In the foreground, in the lower left corner are a tuft of short grass plants and three large stones emerging from the water and forming a semi-circle. Near the corner, diagonally towards the centre of the photo  are three other stones making the tips of a triangle; the first oval one lies closer to the bottom edge, the two other ones are oblong and lie slightly further, one next to the other. At the right edge at the bottom, there is another stone, this one smaller, but also sticking out of the water.

The boy portrayed is around twelve to fourteen years of age. He is standing ankle-deep in the water slightly above the stone composition, to the left of the vertical axis of the photo. The boy is shown from the right profile. The photographer took the picture from the back, slightly at an angle, so that the boy’s back could be seen. One senses that the photographer was watching the boy, who was unaware of his gaze, and immortalised him in this natural position, not wanting to disturb him. The boy is standing erect, the left leg placed slightly to the front. In his right hand, with his elbow bent at 90 degrees, he is holding a fishing rod – probably a stick – straight and long. One can only assume that a line must run from the stick to the water, yet it is not visible here. The boy’s left arm can be seen only partially at his bent elbow.

The boy is wearing wide, knee-length trousers, draped thickly on his backside, and a jacket or a sweatshirt with long narrow sleeves, the right one slightly creased. The right flap of the garment is jutting forward. On his head is a schoolboy’s cap with a visor, wide strap and a flat top. The boy’s facial impression is not visible, his face a flat blur. The figure of the boy portrayed is extended by his shadow, a line going down along the water surface, then between the two oblong stones, partly across the third one and finally reaching the bottom edge of the photo. The picture was taken on a sunny summer day. The sun is reflected in the water, falling on the boys’ back and the stones. One can sense silence and omnipresent calm.

The photograph was executed in the gum technique, a fashionable and most popular of the old noble (free) techniques. Applying it, one typically obtains a single image, a unique and original impression. The author managed to end up with a flat and synthetic image, without details yet soft and delicate. The landscape is slightly blurred, and there is no clear boundary between the water and the bank. The only element suggesting the depth is the figure of the boy.

The gum technique makes use of the photosensitivity of potassium and ammonium dichromates in a gum arabic solution, as well as their ability to be tanned in the presence of light. Coated with a solution of gum arabic, dichromate, potassium carbonate and ink, paper (laid paper being the best) is exposed in daylight through the negative held in contact by the printing frame. After the exposure, the print is rinsed in tepid water so that the exposed gum comes off the surface. When the result is satisfactory, the impression is dried.

Wojciech Buyko was an artist photographer working in noble techniques. He mainly made landscapes like the “Volhynian countryside” series, genre scenes, but also still life and studies of fruit and flowers. He also took commemorative pictures from the WWI Russian Front.  He lived in Vilnius and in 1929 was elected president of the Vilnius Society of Photography Admirers. He was also a member of the Vilnius Photo Club, founded in 1928.