Photographer, born in Warsaw on the 25th of September 1925, died in Paris on the 25th of November 2001. Kossakowski is renowned as a perceptive photographer of Polish artistic life, and of his new home, Paris.
Eustachy Kossakowski, Venice, 1975, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
Kossakowski studied architecture but devoted his entire life to photography, a passion he inherited from his father, a pediatric surgeon. Born in Warsaw on the 25th of September 1925, he died in Paris on the 25th of November 2001.
Kossakowski is renowned as a perceptive photographer of Polish artistic life in the 1960s. Associated with the Krzywe Koło Gallery, he became involved with the Foksal Gallery and photographed performances and plays directed by Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski. His well-known photographs documented Kantor’s Panoramic Sea Happening in 1967, including the famous photo of Edward Krasiński conducting the sea's waves. Krasiński also used Kossakowski’s photographs in his own projects.
In the 1950s and 1960s, he documented Polish everyday reality in cities and the provinces, working with the periodicals Stolica, Zwierciadło, Ty i Ja and Poland. Meeting photographer Tadeusz Rolke was significant for his career, and in 1960 he was admitted to the Union of Polish Art Photographers.
He had a tendency for "capturing the moment", as in Blind Children (1961). The curator Adam Mazur has remarked that "all the photos collectively refer to the snapshot aesthetic of the decisive moment à la Bresson", much like "the perspective of an aristocrat photographing a country of a worker-peasant alliances".
Paris and conceptual work
Kossakowski departed from Poland in 1970 and moved to Paris (he bought a house in Brok, Poland, in 1989, but never moved back). He worked as a museum photographer in the Centre Creation Industrielle in Musèe des Arts Dècoratifs (1973-1978), A.R.C. Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris (1982-1985) and the Centre Georges Pompidou (1978-1990). He collaborated with French publishers Hachette, Philippe Sers, Jean Claude Lattes and L'Imprimerie Nationale.
Kossakowski’s departure from Poland brought significant change in his photographic approach. In the early seventies, he altered his style of photography, with its Bresson attribute, in the early 1970s, taking up so-called objective photography, utilizing an explicit conceptual feature. His series became based on specific rules of conduct, devoid of subjectivity and "aesthetic" treatments.
The first of these series of these, 6 Metres to Paris (1970-1971), presented at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and brought him popularity. The series' 159 images were taken 6 meters from various city-limit road signs around Paris. Kossakowski framed these city signs at the center of each picture, rendering the surroundings distinct, captured by chance, what did not obey the rules.
Other series from the '70s were based on similar principles, including Palisades (1972-1977) and Affiches détournées (1975-1979), a documentation of destroyed advertising and electoral posters in the streets of the city.
A Europe of Lights
Kossakowski traveled a great deal. He created a cycle called The Apostles (1982) in Rome, photographing Bernini's famous sculptures in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, seen from unusual perspectives, mainly from behind. As he 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 explained: "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 became the foundation of the full-colour Lights of Chartres series (1983-1990), an exception to his usual black-and-white photography. He documented colorful glints floating through the stained-glass windows for years, on the floor and walls of the medieval cathedral. He recalled 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 an album in 1990 and became a significant success in France. He photographed sunbeams moving along the walls of the ancient ruins at Pompeii (1990-1994) and in more prosaic places for the Light in the Corridor of the Maids’ Room cycle (1984).
The Zachęta National Gallery of Art held an exhibition dedicated to Eustachy Kossawkowski’s life achievement in 2004, and Anka Ptaszkowska, his widow, 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 metres to Paris - Musèe des Arts Decoratifs, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm
1972 - 6 metres to Paris - Altro Gallery, Rome
1973 - 6 metres 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 - Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw - "Eustachy Kossakowski" - Espace EDF Electra, Fondation EDF, Paris
2005 - 6 metres to Paris - Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France
2009 - Eustachy Kossakowski. Photograph" - M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum, Kauna, Lithuania
See more on the artist at: www.eustachy-kossakowski.com