6 Mètres Avant Paris – Eustachy Kossakowski
In his photographs of Paris, Kossakowski symbolically defies the tradition of beautiful depictions of the metropolis and departs from the philosophy of the 'decisive moment' implemented by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
By the end of 1960s, Eustachy Kossakowski (1925-2001) had decided to leave for France with his partner - Anka Ptaszkowska. Nowadays, it sounds like a trivial trip inside the Schengen Area, but back then it was a huge decision, equal to losing contact with one’s country, family and friends - those who emigrated were unable to come back due to the communist laws. By leaving the communist Peoples Republic of Poland, Kossakowski made a leap into the unknown. What he left behind was not only a profitable and safe post as a photographer for leading magazines (he worked for ‘Polska’, ‘Zwierciadło’, and ‘Ty i ja’) but also his distinctive style of taking photographs. He gave up humanistic reportage for a conceptual, systematic approach, which was to be fully revealed in the 159 photographs forming the typological series 6 Mètres Avant Paris (1970-71).
The cycle soon became recognised and was presented at the Musèe des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The circumstances of the creation of 6 Mètres Avant Paris are perfectly described by Anka Ptaszkowska's words:
We used to walk the streets of Paris for whole days, with a baguette in hand. Eustachy always carried his Rolleiflex. He would perceive ten times more then me. One day he showed me an informative plaque with the inscription ‘Paris’. – Worth taking a picture – he said. And so began our wonderful adventure.
The migrant who tries to obtain permanent residence sees the city from a totally different angle to its inhabitants. He is not at home. He is an alien. It is visible in the cycle’s pictures, as Garer Wajcman rightfully noted in his essay on Kossakowski’s photographs. Referring to the inscription Poids lourds stationnement reglement (HGV parking regulations) , which appears in the majority of photos, Wajcman directly indicates the possibility of a metaphorical understanding of this text as a sort of a warning to strangers: keep out!
During his work on 6 Mètres Avant Paris, Kossakowski battled for his right to stay and take up residence in the city. This cycle represents for him permission to stay, of sorts - he was offered a job as photographer at Centre Pompidou. He looked at the city from the margins and shot something inaccessible to him – the metropolis. Grand Paris is reduced to a sign, an informative roadside plaque. Kossakowski was systematic. Like a scientist, he made a step by step analysis. Paris as a road sign, Paris as a myth reduced to ground level. In front of our eyes Paris gave up its role as capital of the present day world and turned into its suburbs. It was no longer seductive.
With his camera, Kossakowski accomplished the same as Roland Barthes - quickly and capably dispelling sullen Paris’s bloated myths. The ‘Paris-ness’ of photographs successively evaporates with each and every one. The typology is fulfilled with the monotony of the signs, always positioned in the centre of the picture and the limitless boredom of photographed non-places and non-iconic non-moments, but also with the multitude of differences hidden in the details of the recorded walks of life.
Kossakowski is a Paris photographer. But a one-of-a-kind photographer, standing out amongst the legion of artists blinded by the lights of the capital of the modern world. Kossakowski is a Paris photographer who is brave enough to challenge the overwhelming tradition, dating back to titans such as Daguerre, Marville or Atget. In his photographs, he not only symbolically defies the tradition of beautiful depictions of the metropolis, but also departs from the philosophy of the 'decisive moment' implemented by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Author: Adam Mazur, March 2014, Translated by W.O. March 2014.
6 Mètres Avant Paris
Museum od Modern Arts in WarsawAdam Mazur