My first trip to Poland was July 28, 1974 as President Gerald R. Ford's White House photographer. He was the second U.S. President to visit the country, Richard Nixon was the first. Ford was given a full-on state ceremony, including a ride through the streets in an open car with Edward Gierek, First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party, and the man in charge. The route was lined with cheering people waving Polish and American flags. It was a good photo, a scene you will never again see with a U.S. president due to tighter security.
The Poland visit was particularly memorable for me. The motorcade made an unscheduled stop, and President Ford and Gierek got out and started shaking hands with people along the parade route. I hopped out to take photos, but the two men quickly got back in their car and the motorcade took off leaving me stranded. Another limousine was slowly coming by, and I waved it down. There was an older woman sitting alone in the back who looked friendly enough, a guy driving, and another man sitting in the front next to him. I got in the back with her, introduced myself, and thanked her for the lift. She spoke a little English, introduced herself, and to the man in the front. "This is my husband, Piotr Jaroszewicz, President of Poland," she said. He turned and gave me a little wave. Uh oh. I just committed a major security breach. Sure enough, I looked behind us, and there was a follow-up car filled with really pissed-off looking Polish secret service guys. As soon as we stopped, I quickly thanked her for the ride, and made it back unscathed to the U.S. side.
This latest landing in Warsaw was way more uneventful. I flew in from Munich after a non-stop flight to Germany on Lufthansa from the states. The reason for the trip was to photograph another gathering of the Global Ambassadors Program, a Vital Voices and Bank of America partnership designed to provide mentorship opportunities for emerging women leaders around the world. Previous trips to document this excellent program have taken me to Haiti, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Brazil, and Northern Ireland.
A bit of advice an old-timer gave me that I always follow is to get out and shoot right away when you visit someplace you've never been. He was right. Nothing is more exciting and fresher than new sights, and even though I'd been here four decades earlier, those memories are pretty dim. The landscape in Warsaw is dominated by a huge building that was a gift of the Soviets to the Polish people in 1955, (even though the Poles had to pay for it). It was originally called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture & Science, but Joe's name was dropped way back. Many people around Warsaw resent the monstrous edifice, and as some are prone to say, the best view of Warsaw where you don't see it is from the building itself. As a long-time connoisseur of commie kitsch, I love it! The day I landed in Warsaw I set out to take several views of the place. It was late afternoon, the light was great, and my mission was clear. Day 1 in Warsaw would, even though it was a short one, would be about getting some different views of Uncle Joe's Palace.
There were other things to see around the hotel, this movie poster among them. I always like to capture local contemporary color, or in this case, local black and white!