Photographer, specialist in the field of commercial photography and precursor of digital photography reproduction. Born on the 5th of May, 1939 in Kraków. Currently resides and works in New York City.
Ryszard Horowitz has enjoyed a successful career over many decades in both fine art and commercial photography. In commercial photography Horowitz developed his own characteristic style that has brought him international recognition (experts call it the 'Horowitz style'). The artist himself explains that,
While contemplating the defining of my art, I think that it’s a combination of Galician surrealism and American madness. I was lucky enough not to lose touch with my roots. I was well educated in Poland and I had a solid background that allowed me to find my own place in America. The collision of both of these worlds forged my work style.
The main ingredient of his formula was experimentation with various photographic techniques, along with the playfulness of form, which reverts to experiences and traditions of surrealism. Ryszard Horowitz’s images depict unreal dreamscapes crisscrossed with symbolic imagery. The artist’s astounding imagery is reminiscent of an atmosphere found in the paintings of Magritte and Salvador Dali. Zbigniew Dłubak, photographer and friend commented,
Surrealism taught him how to arrange meetings of ordinary objects and how to apply unusual proportions. It’s these things that project his intended atmosphere. It takes such bravery to boil it down to such simplicity, such talent and restraint to produce results, which are so suggestive and so fascinating.
From the very beginning, Horowitz was fascinated by the metamorphosis of matter and the transformation and connection of forms and their penetration. In order to obtain such effects, he implemented a multitude of techniques: retouching, multiple film exposures, switching of the membrane in the camera and re-exposing it along with shadow manipulation. Later he achieved the same results with the use of computers and specialized software. He often relies on the technique of photomontage. Preparation for all of his projects begins with a careful working out the concept and sketching.
Ryszard Horowitz was born in Kraków in 1939, a cataclysmic year in Polish history. During the Second World War, prior to being sent to concentration camps, he lived with his family in Kraców’s Ghetto. He found himself on the famous Schindler’s List and is one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the war he moved back to Kraków with his surviving family members. For a brief period of time during his childhood he grew up alongside Roman Polański with whom he created his first photographic enlarger from cardboard. He started taking pictures at the early age of fourteen, though the road that led to photography began with painting. The artist recalls,
I was extremely lucky to have met Adam Hoffman during my studies at the Higher School of Arts in Kraków. He was an artist, painter, outstanding teacher and a wonderful man with whom I remained friends until the end of his life (Adam Hoffman died in 2001) It was he, who instilled in me; a young lad, the love for art and showed me how I’m supposed to tread as a young beginning artist. The professor showed us classical arts, taught how to copy the masters; learn their strokes, composition; he turned our attention to what happens to the world transfixed on a three dimensional object.
For two years, beginning in 1959, Horowitz studied painting in Kraków’s Higher School of Fine Arts, and later at the Academy of Fine Arts. He matured artistically during the period of the political thaw. At the time, Kraków was perceived as the center of avant-garde art painting, theater and film. Horowitz kept close relationships with artists from Piwnica pod Baranami, was fascinated by Jazz (He played clarinet) and had a keen interest in American photography. He photo documented the birth of Polish Jazz and in 1958 he prepared an exhibition at the People’s Theater in Nowa Huta called, Naked Landscape a collection of female nudes. Unfortunately, the exhibition was shut down after only a few hours due to moral concerns.
In 1959, Horowitz left for New York where he began his studies at the prestigious Pratt Institute in the commercial and advertising graphic design department. This is where encountered his mentor, the prominent photographer, Richard Avedon. He became his assistant and worked on the sets of sessions including the famous portrait session with Salvador Dali in 1963. At Avedon’s workshop he crossed paths with Alexey Brodovitch, the most influential figure in the generation of American photographers defined as the New York School. He took part in weekly seminars led by Brodovitch, who always encouraged his students to 'Surprise me!' This mantra accompanied Horowitz during the realization of his own works.
With a diploma in his pocket he began his career by working at agencies involved in graphic design for film and television and participated in various important commercial projects. Eventually he ended up at Grey Advertising, where after a short time he assumed the position of Art Director. However, in 1967, after only two years of holding his position, he opened his own photography agency. He recalls,
I was following my own path, a bit upstream. Looking to find my own niche, I was hoping that my commercial clientele would like me enough to allow for a steady income. My first big campaign came out in France. It was Rodier, the biggest textile producer in France.
Horowitz’s first original creative projects were created around 1970 as a result of experiments with wide-angle lenses and false perspective. The final products were characteristic pictures that utilized the rules of optical montage. During the second half of the 60’s, the artist accidentally stumbled upon an anomaly that allowed him to develop his own unique method of work. During a photographic session with a live model in a studio using a wide-angle lens, he accidentally triggered the flash. He noticed during the film developing stage that due to the use of flash, the objects in the foreground looked to be enormous in size while the model standing behind them seemed to have 'shrunk' substantially.
The artist was also interested in multi-elemental photography, which is the art of combining various pictures to create a unified image. Although his works are composed of fragments registered at different locations and at different times, the final product creates an impression of cohesiveness and an illusion of an anomaly captured in a single moment. In the beginning, Horowitz achieved astounding effects thanks to the use of tedious masking techniques. He was a pioneer of special photographic effects long before the Photoshop era. Projects such as Appolonia (1985) or the Lincoln-Mercury commercial campaign were created at this time. The artist said,
People are often convinced that my works were created recently and with the use of computer software. A lot of them were created prior to 1990, when I wasn’t aware of the existence of computers.
By the end of the 80’s, Horowitz was able to resign from darkroom work. Jerzy Kosinski’s wife, Kiki, said during one of her interviews, that computers with the ability of digital editing were created with this artist in mind. In 1991, during the inauguration of Horowitz’s exhibition at the Center of Photography in Geneva, he was officially named the initiator of a new style of commercial photography.
During the shooting of his first pictures with the application of computers, he worked alongside programmers, since achieving certain special effects required the use of special applications. This was the case during the creation of Birds II. This project shows a dove entering a twisted tube and coming out of the other end with colorful feathers, like a parrot. Another project, which earned him wide recognition, was the portrait of Jerzy Kosinski transforming into a bird. Among other projects are models jumping out of perfume bottles or being pulled behind waves in the sea, pigeons flying through glass etc. In a commercial for a famous jewelry company, he photographed its owner sitting on a latch for a pearl necklace while floating on a surface of water. Zbigniew Lagocki commented in an exhibit catalog for the artists work that,
Ryszard Horowitz’s commercial photography rarely has the character of direct information relating to the object. Rather, it stimulates the imagination of the viewer, and it forces them to certain associations, often reaching far beyond the substantive content of the advertisement.
Horowitz doesn’t allow computers to take control over his own ideas. He declares,
The computer for me is only a tool. Photographers working with traditional techniques shouldn’t be leery of digital imaging. I don’t think that traditional photography will disappear any time soon, yet everyone should follow new technologies. At the moment, it doesn’t matter if the technology used is traditional or not. The most important thing is the final product; what the given person has to say. It’s not the workshop alone nor is it the type of camera or lens used which decides, none of that matters.
Digital manipulation allows for the covering up of traces of mystification often visible in Horowitz’s photomontages. As it was in Allegory I in the 90s, where he composed a large number of pictures – sky from Peru, water from the Atlantic Ocean and other elements shot at his studio.
At first, Horowitz worked with computer studios that specialized in creating special effects for photography, film and television. This ultimately led to a long lasting cooperation with Robert Greenberg’s R/GA Print Company, which, in turn, put at his disposal some of the most state-of-the-art equipment. By 1994, the artist managed to equip his workshop with enough Macintosh computers and Silicon Graphics workstations to allow him to work independently on the realization of his own projects.
Epitomized as the surrealist of photography and a lens maven, no longer working on commercial photography, he spends his time experimenting, uncovering new techniques and digital and optical devices. He calls his works 'photocompositions' as for him, a picture is something in the way of a musical composition.
In 2010, he organized a photographic session dedicated to the city of Poznan. It’s the third city he has photographed, after Kraków and New York City. At this time, however, Horowitz used a special camera, the same as the one used by NASA to photograph Mars. The final effect was a collection of forty pictures taken both from the ground and from a bird’s eye view. The artist used a hydraulic lift, scaled rooftops and towers, and for the final part of his project used a helicopter.
In 1987, Ryszard Horowitz’s individual exhibition was held at Warsaw’s Zacheta Gallery, and in 1994 the artist presented his works during the Camerimage Festival in Toruń.
- 1982 – Golden Cadillac Award in Detroit – for the best car of the year commercial campaign.
- 1983 – Title of American Photographer of the Year in a national poll conducted by Adweec Magazine.
- 1991 – Award from the American Photographic Artists association for the best picture of the year (Bird II)
- 2008 – Award from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage "Gloria Artis"
- 2010 – Title of Doctor Honoris Causa from Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts.