Tomasz Kizny is a photographer and journalist, born in 1958 in Wrocław. He is associated with Gazeta Wyborcza, where he publishes his photos and articles in the newspaper's ‘Big Format’ reportage section.
Tomasz Kizny is particularly interested in Russian topics, following in the footsteps of such great thinkers as Herling-Grudziński. He is a member of the Polish Union of Art Photographers.
In the years 1982-91, he worked in the Independent Photographic Agency Dementi, which he co-founded, and was among its most important photographers. The agency operated beyond the reach of censorship as part of the Underground State. Between 1986 and 1997 the artist worked on the exhibition Image of the System, dedicated to the critical contemporary history of Russia. In 1989 a solo exhibition by Kizny entitled Survivors of the Gulag was held in the Old Gallery of the Polish Union of Art Photographers in Warsaw, and was also shown as part of the prestigious L’année de l’Est in 1990 (Musée de l’Elisée in Lausanne). It presented the problem of death camps in Siberia from a documentary and historical perspective. In turn, the exhibition Dead Road (Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw 1991/92) showed the giant construction projects of unfinished railways built in the Soviet empire of evil. Sentence (Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw 1997) displayed signs of death visible in the portraits of ordinary residents of Moscow, while the cycle Passengers. Moscow. Warsaw. Berlin. Paris (Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw, 2001) revealed Kizny’s potential as an outstanding portraitist, who not only created a series of psychological portraits of individuals photographed in the underground, but also identified the specific features of his chosen cities.
Tomasz Kizny makes references to the history of group portraits, following the example of such eminent photographers as the members of the Farm Security Administration (for example, Walker Evans), August Sander and Zofia Rydet in Poland (Sociological Record 1978-90). They attempted to capture the typological and sociological specifics of communities in defined socio-political conditions. This also had important artistic implications for documentary photography. In the case of Kizny’s photos what stands out is their precise static composition, the monumentality of the shots and the large format of the presented works. All this means that the convincing and expressive psychological portraits created by him are also very sophisticated from a documentary point of view.
Kizny can be described as the most prominent Polish press photographer of the 90s, skillfully combining the requirements of literature with historical diagnosis and often unique photos. In 2002, works from the Passengers series were shown at the exhibition Around the Decade. Polish Photography of the 90s (Łódź Art Museum), and then in other places around the country. An important artistic and journalistic success was the publication of his photographic album Gulag in France in 2003 (Hamburg, Madrid, Milan, New York, 2004, Moscow, 2007, Warsaw 2015). In 2007, the photographer was awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta.
In the years 2008-2011 Kizny worked on the project The Great Terror 1937-1938 in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The photographer dedicated his last work to the memory of victims of crimes against humanity committed in the USSR in 1937-38, when 750,000 people were killed in the span of 15 months. The Great Terror, which is divided into three parts, includes portraits of victims of terror taken by the NKVD shortly before their execution, contemporary pictures of the sites of executions and graves, and in the third part, contemporary photographs of people whose parents were killed during the Great Terror. The project took the form of an album published in Poland and France in March 2013.
Works by Tomasz Kizny can be found in the collections of the National Museum in Wrocław.
Author: Krzysztof Jurecki, Łódź Art Museum, April 2004; update: DB, March 2013, transl.: Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015