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Fossils of the Past

An exhibition of Jerzy Lewczyński

Curated by: Łukasz Rogowski

Opening: 27 September, 2018, 6 pm

On view until 31 October, 2018

‘A camera in a photographer’s hand is a kind of eternal pen, writing down his inner tensions, among other things, for the future.’ - described the Polish photographer Jerzy Lewczyński his relation to the camera in an interview. 

Lewczyński emerged on the Polish art scene as a participant of the exhibition "Closed Show" in Gliwice in 1959. This show featured works of the informal artistic group, consisting of Lewczyński and two Polish painters, Bronisław Schlabs and Zdzisław Beksiński. They were later described as "antiphotographs", in reference to the French postwar, experimental antinovels. 

While Schlabs presented abstract photographs, Beksiński his iconoclastic assemblies, Lewczyński showed photos of torn posters, Hebrew tombstone inscriptions, children's handwritings or back of the envelope calculations. 

Years later he formulated the program of "archeology of photography" a new approach to his image making process. From the 1960s throughout the 1970s, Lewczyński incorporated pictures and negatives of other photographers to mix and sample them into original works. The practice of appropriation is a typical artistic gesture of the postmodern art that allows to play with the different meanings and essences.

During a trip to New York City he found negatives in a garbage bin and developed them. Invitation cards, behind the scene pictures and intimate moments from an erotic theatre form a unique series of these found photographs called “Negatives found in New York (1979)”. 

His carefully composed photographs depiciting symbolic objects and moments of everyday life such as “Canteen” (1980), “Miners” (1950s) or “Untitled” (1960) were influenced by the formal experiments of avant-garde art. He was inspired by the photograms of László Moholy-Nagy and the surrealist rayograms of Man Ray. Lewczyński analyzed the differentiated structure of “without camera” image and the ephemeral aesthetics of these techniques. 

Since he 1968 he was breaking the structure of the autonomous photographic image. Sometimes he captured bizarre settings using the elements of documentary photography: he captured a typical Soviet officer in his working environment with nudes in the background (Office staging, 1975). Sometimes he painted fragments and cut out unusual details: this is especially noticable in the work October, 1956 depicting a street scene after Stalinism has fallen in Poland. He often used text reproductions (Missing words, 1971) and films as a source of inspiration. The influence of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up appears in the work Our Blow-up – Nysa, 1945 where Lewczyński created a special aura by blowing-up a specific photographic detail.  

Collecting, editing, blowing-up images were among Lewczyński’s artistic method of processing the past as well as his way of showing human interactions and emotions. The exhibition of Trapéz is the first presentation in Budapest of his unique photographic practice featuring his works from the 1950s until the 1970s.

The exhibition was supported by the Polish Institute in Budapest.