The presentation took the form of a discussion, featuring the book editor Tomasz Stempowski of the IPN Archive, Adam Mazur of the University of the Arts in Poznań, Sam Bryan, the photographer’s son and university lecturer – and was moderated by Adam Hlebowicz, the Head of the IPN’s National Education Office. The participants addressed the question that must inevitably trouble everyone who sees these photographs and has at least rudimentary knowledge of history: What were Bryan's intentions when he presented relatively neutral images – of what looked like normal country – to the West?
The American photojournalist recorded the life of the Soviet people in the years 1930 – 1959, three decades marked by widespread terror and purges, collectivization and indoctrination, hunger and war. Bryan’s seemingly impartial shots show both the country and its citizens slowly slip into decline and hopelessness, and it is the confusion and disorientation of the people that are particularly striking here. In that sense Bryan’s work is eye-opening, but its great value is also portraying the land’s diversity, from Smolensk to Irkutsk, from ministry buildings to the forests of Taiga.