Eustachy Kossakowski*

18.05.2012 in09:54 in Documentary -->


Photographer. Born in Warsaw on September 25, 1925, died in Paris on November 25, 2001.

Kossakowski is remembered primarily as a perceptive photographer of Polish artistic life. First associated with the environment of the Krzywe Kolo Gallery, he later became involved with the Foksal Gallery. He photographed the performances and plays of Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski. He took the well-known photographs documenting Kantor’s “Panoramic Sea Happening” in 1967, including the famous photo of Edward Krasinski conducting the waves on the sea. Krasinski also used Kossakowski’s photographs in his own projects.

Eustachy Kossakowski studied architecture, but devoted his entire life to photography, a passion he inherited from his father, a pediatric surgeon. In the fifties and sixties, he became involved in documenting the Polish everyday reality of life in the bigger cities as well as in the provinces, working with magazines such as Stolica, Zwierciadlo, Ty i Ja and in particular with Poland. His meeting with photographer Tadeusz Rolke was very significant for his career and in 1960 he was admitted to the Union of Polish Art Photographers.

His black-and-white photographs at times were arranged in series (eg, “A Jewish Cemetery” 1960; “A man recounts his brother’s death,” 1967; “The first customers at Supersam”1961). However the photographer rather preferred to “catch the moment” (“Blind Children”, 1961). According to curator Adam Mazur, “all the photos collectively refer to the snapshot aesthetic of the decisive moment a la Bresson.” The critic and curator finds in Kossakowski’s early compares his view to “the perspective of an aristocrat photographing a country of a worker-peasant alliances”.

In 1970, Kossakowski departed from Poland and moved to Paris (he eventually returned to Poland in 1989, bought a house in Brok, but never actually moved back), where he worked as a museum photographer: in the Centre Creation Industrielle in Musee des Arts Decoratifs (1973-1978), A.R.C. Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris (1982-1985) and the Centre Georges Pompidou (1978-1990). He also collaborated with French publishers such as: Hachette, Philippe Sers, Jean Claude Lattes, and L’Imprimerie Nationale.

Kossakowski’s departure from Poland was associated with a significant change in his approach toward photography. In the early seventies, he altered his style of photography, with its Bresson attribute and took up the so-called objective photography, with an explicit conceptual feature. He created a series of photographs based on specific, strict rules of conduct, devoid of subjectivity and “aesthetic” treatments.

The first series of these, which brought him popularity was “6 meters to Paris” (1970-1971), presented at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. All 159 images comprising this series were taken 6 meters in front of various road plates with the name of the capital city of France. Kossakowski framed the picture each time so that the board was in the same position in every picture. Thus the unique surroundings became paramount, what was captured by chance, what did not obey the rules. Anka Ptaszkowska, art critic, co-founder of the Foksal Gallery, and Kossakowski’s wife recalls:

We walked around Paris with a baguette in our hands and Eustachy would carry around his Rolliflex. He managed to notice about ten times more things than I did. One day he showed me an information plate with the word ‘Paris’. -It’s worth taking a picture – he said. And so our great adventure began.

Kossakowski’s other series from the ’70s were based on similar principles, like “Palisades” (1972-1977) or “Affiches detournees” (1975-1979)- a documentation of destroyed advertising and electoral posters in the streets of the city.

Kossakowski traveled a great deal. In Rome he created a cycle called “The Apostles” (1982) in which he photographed the famous Bernini’s sculptures of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, as seen from unusual perspectives, mainly from behind.
The photographer explained: “I was fascinated by the exquisitely contemporary form of these sculptures despite the passage of over 400 years”. Critic Achille Perilli emphasizes the “dramatic effect (…) obtained by arranging the structures, a certain strife between balance and counterbalance, a volumetry in space, in setting it up on a specific level, in the gravity, in the domination of the most beautiful plaza in the world”.

Kossakowski devoted many series and individual photographs to the luminous phenomena. In an interview, he explains: “The essence of my photography is light, which I treat as an object in itself. (…) I was aiming for something where the light was not only an element that would modulate the subjects. I’m interested in photographing those moments that cannot be repeated”.

This issue became the foundation of the “Lights of Chartres” cycle (1983-1990), one of the few exceptions Kossakowski made from his usual black and white photography using full-color pictures. For many years the artist documented the colorful glints floating through the stained-glass windows on the floor and walls of the medieval cathedral. He recalls the process:

I systematically photographed the movement of the light by turning my back on the stained glass windows, and capturing the luminous effects from the inside. I would take pictures of the same place every three minutes. I had a series of color photos, for example 15 minutes from the life of one random space.

The pictures were presented in the “Lumieres de Chartres” (1990) album and became a significant happening in France. In a similar cycle, he photographed sunbeams moving along the walls of the ancient ruins at Pompeii (1990-1994) but also in more prosaic places that lead to the “Light in the corridor of the maids’ room” cycle (1984).

In 2004, the Zacheta National Gallery of Art held an exhibition dedicated to Eustachy Kossawkowski’s life achievement and Anka Ptaszkowska presented an immense archive of his work to the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, July 2009.

Selected individual exhibitions:

1971 – “6 meters to Paris” – Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm

1972 – “6 meters to Paris” – Altro Gallery, Rome
1973 – “6 meters to Paris ” – Bologna City Museum, Italy
1989 – ZPAF Gallery, Warsaw – “The Apostles” – Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
1991 – “The Apostles” – Glaeire Galea, Caen, France
1994 – “Atelier, 1964″ – rue de Charenton, Paris
1995 – “The Apostles” – Spicchi dell’Est Gallery, Rome
2004 – “Eustachy Kossakowski. Photographer” – “Zacheta” National Gallery of Art, Warsaw – “Eustachy Kossakowski” – Espace EDF Electra, Fondation EDF, Paris
2005 – “6 meters to Paris ” – Musee Nicephore Niepce, Chalon-sur-Saone, France
2009 – “Eustachy Kossakowski. Photographs” – M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum, Kauna, LithuaniaThe artist’s official website: