Me You Him - Andrzej Lachowicz
Andrzej Lachowicz (born in 1939) started photographing his own shadow in 1964. The number of these unusual self-portraits gradually increased, and the artist began to group them into series and create sequences. One such distinctive tableau of nine pictures is the work Ja Ty On (Me You Him) from 1970.
The photos depict dry grass, or perhaps the stubble of a field, with the shadow of the photographer in a characteristic position looking down from behind the viewfinder of the camera (which is probably of the type of the Start camera popular in the People’s Republic, or a twin-lens camera like the Rolleicord). In some photos, the contour of the shadow reveals that the photographer is holding the camera closer to his face or a bit lower, thus changing the angle of the lens. However, none of the pictures show the line of the horizon, only the surface of the earth turned into an abstract background, with the shadow positioned in the centre of the frame. Interestingly, each of the nine images covers a slightly different fragment of a field, which may suggest that the photographer moved or repeatedly visited the same place and took the pictures in similar lighting conditions (the second option is confirmed by the outline of a camera bag or etui hanging on the hips of the author and only visible on some of the photos).
What stands out is the right top frame, on which the shadow of the photographer extends its arm upward as if to say hello or attract someone’s attention. Due to the simple composition and the almost abstract minimalist motif divided into nine images, Me You Him, as well as other photos depicting the shadow of Lachowicz, have been subject to multiple interpretations by critics and historians.
The shadow can be interpreted in different ways – physical, anthropological, moral, but most of all, perhaps, from the perspective of Jung’s ‘personal unconscious’.
– wrote Anna Cymer
In this case, however, it seems most appropriate to view Me You Him in a historical and artistic context. Ever since he met his life partner Natalia LL (Lach-Lachowicz) during his studies in 1961, Lachowicz has been keenly interested in the changing paradigm of art. Along with Natalia LL he took an active part in the intellectual life of Wrocław, where a circle of Polish artists of key importance to the adoption of conceptual art in Poland formed around Jerzy Ludwiński. It is no accident that in 1970 Me You Him was attached to the manifesto of the PERMAFO group (1970-81) created by Andrzej and Natalia Lachowicz together with the Polish neo-avant-garde guru Zbigniew Dłubak. The group name is derived from the expression ‘permanent photography’ coined by Lachowicz, which – according to the author – is an attempt to ‘postpone the constant change and continuous duration of reality’. As Lachowicz wrote:
I am interested in creating a photographic image [...], which would capture a moment of ‘endlessness’, and which would be an artistic transposition of mathematical topology, a search for a representation that could not be subject to unambiguous definition.
The prominent historian Naomi Rosenblum has noted, the use of sequential photography could be observed already in the nineteenth century in the works of Edward Muybridge prior to the invention of film. However, the boom of sequential and typological photography in the second half of the 1960s associated with Lachowicz, Ger Dekkers, and Bernd and Hilla Becher, avoided narrative and focused on comparison and analysis typical of conceptualism, and based on photographic documentation.
In the series of photographs depicting his own shadow Lachowicz mocks the humanistic portrait tradition and the idea that every photo is in a way a self-portrait. The photographic record is also a trap for viewers looking for a narrative. The anti-portraits of Lachowicz complement the obsessive series of portraits of Natalia LL (e.g. Consumer Art, 1972). Historically, the shadow portraits from the late 60s and 70s belong to conceptualism, yet the artist never moved away from permanent photography despite the passage of time and the changing views on art, creating simple photos stripped of expression and sentimentality. The series inevitably becomes a biographical record not devoid of existential themes. Struck down by illness and confined to a wheelchair, Lachowicz took pictures of his own shadow at the turn of the century. This is not the shadow of a beautiful and slender figure, but still perfectly suited to the ageing body.
Author: Adam Mazur, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, April 2015
Andrzej Lachowicz, Ja Ty On / Me You Him, 1970, National Museum in Wrocław.Culture.pl