Lewczyński Jerzy
Found in NY (1979)
14th february 2015
to 28th march 2015

Lesson 1: Photography Is an Everyday Art

Jerzy Lewczyński, who had been in New York City to participate in the exhibition Polish Photography at the International Center of Photography, reminisced:

It is September 6, 1979, a warm morning. I’m leaving the Artists’ Housing at Bethune Street where the Kosciuszko Foundation runs its studios. Walking through the door, I see all kinds of rubbish on the street. I immediately notice scattered photographs, envelopes, and papers. Suppressing embarrassment, I walk up closer and examine the photos; I also see lots of envelopes with negatives.

‘They fire someone from here every day,’ Lewczyński hears from a colleague. He picks up the envelopes and pictures, and later stuffs them in his suitcase which he takes home. Upon arrival at Katowice airport, he finds the suitcase missing. He collects it only a month later in Warsaw; luckily, he has left his address in it. Perhaps it has been to Hong Kong or somewhere else, he is no less surprised at getting it back than at finding the materials in the first place:

I have no time for reflection, but I’m happy to own such a precious treasure. This is a new step in my practice of ‘found photography.’ . . . I’ve been trying to find out more about the people in these pictures. This requires colossal effort, but – confident in the mystical power of photography – I hope to learn more.

Besides the famous Beacon Theater series, with negatives from an amateur adult show, the ‘NY all’ plastic bag left by Lewczyński contains maps, leaflets, business cards, postcards, the New York Yellow Pages, press clippings, hundreds of vernacular photographs, New York architecture photos, portraits of friends he met there, e.g. Zbigniew Dłubak or Andrzej Urbanowicz, and, above all, negatives with the self-portraits of an unknown boy who obsessively photographed himself in various everyday situations. This ordinariness of the image, where two successive shots may be almost identical, where a slight grimace or slightly different body tilt are what signifies, evoke the artist’s famous dictum: ‘What happened before or after doesn’t matter; only the shadow on the curtain’. For the rest of his life Lewczyński tried to discover the identity of the boy in the pictures. He probably never succeeded, but he kept printing the negatives and arranging them in sheets, repeating the protagonist’s compulsive act. Michel Foucault wrote in The Archaeology of Knowledge:

As we know, there can be no signs without someone, or at least something, to emit them. For a series of signs to exist, there must – in accordance with the system of causality – be an 'author' or a transmitting authority. But this 'author' is not identical with the subject of the statement; and the relation of production that he has with the formulation is not superposable to the relation that unites the enunciating subject and what he states.

I am deeply convinced that when Foucault liberates the meaning of statements from relations with the truths of their producers, he describes precisely the kind of approach that Jerzy Lewczyński took to picture taking or finding: he was interested above all in their strange presence rather than the truth of the author as producer or artist!

We are pleased to inform that Asymetria will soon be showing a small fragment of Jerzy Lewczyński’s New York find, an event we cordially invite you to attend.

Found in NY. The project is the project is co-financed by The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. 

15.04.2015 16:22:42

(b. 14.03.1924 in Tomaszow Lubelski, d. 2.07.2014)

Photographer, art critic, journalist. Originator of the concept ‘archeology of photography’, which made it possible to use the works of other artists, in a completely innovative way that still inspires numerous young artists, one example being Wojciech Prazmowski. Lewczynski developed a unique and individual style, characterized by a deeply humanistic approach. His output included practices that anticipated 1970s conceptualism (his compositions of juxtaposed photographs presented in Closed Presentation [Pokaz zamkniety] in 1959), as well as post-modernist quotation (his Negatives [Negatywy] series, ongoing since the 1970s). The artist also conducted research on the history of photography, publishing the first Anthology of Polish Photography 1839-1989 [Antologia Fotografii Polskiej 1839-1989], in 1999.
Lewczynski graduated from B. Glowacki junior high school in Tomaszow Lubelski. After the outbreak of the Second World War he began working at the post office of Rachanie and Tomaszow Lubelski. In the years 1943-1945 he served as a soldier in the Home Army and —to avoid arrest by the new communist authorities — subsequently joined the Second People’s Army. Following the war, he took up studies at the Construction and Engineering Department of the Silesian Polytechnic in Gliwice. In 1951 Lewczynski was offered a post as a designer in the Chemical Industry Design Offices in Gliwice, where he worked for the next thirty years. He has been involved in photography since the 1950s, becoming a member of the Gliwice department of the Polish Photography Association in 1951. Five years later he was admitted to the Association of Polish Art Photographers [ZPAF], beings a member of it’s Artistic Board since 1970 (and serving as it’s president from 1979 to 1984). Between 1988 and 1993, Lewczynski was a lecturer at the ZPAF Higher College of Photography in Warsaw. He has received numerous awards in Poland and abroad. His works are in the collections of Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, the National Museum, Wroclaw, the Museum of the History of Photography, Krakow, The Upper-Silesian Museum, Bytom, the Museum in Gliwice, the Museum Folkwang, Essen and Musée de l'Elisée, Lausanne.

Lewczynski took his first photographs in 1938 with a 6,5x4 cm Baby-Brownie Kodak camera. Still before the war, he purchased a 6x9 cm Agfa Billy Record, which he used throughout the 1940s to take amateur photographs capturing landscapes, the life and habits of the community of his native Rachanie, as well as to make his first photomontages, which he termed ‘dream photography’. At this point he remained under the influence of Jan Bulhak’s work, particularly its formal aspects, falling within the ‘picturesque’ movement. In the early 1950s he made friends with Tadeusz Maciejko, president of the Gliwice department of the Polish Photography Association, whose modernist photographs taken between the wars gravitated towards Bauhaus ideas. Maciejko became his tutor in the field of aesthetics and photographic techniques, acquainting Lewczynski with the output of such artists as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Lewczynski’s photographs from the 1950s betray inspiration from socialist realism, constructivism and abstract painting. Apart from this, he was also interested in the formal means employed by Salvador Dali. Surrealist influences are readily visible in the works presented at the Exhibition of Contemporary Photography [Wystawa Fotografiki Wspolczesnej] in Warsaw in 1956, which featured staged images shot in a specially prepared photo-theatre (Composition [Kompozycja]) as well as photomontages (October [Pazdziernik]).
Meeting Zdzislaw Beksinski and Bronislaw Schlabs in the course of preparations for the exhibition A Step Into Modernity [Krok w Nowoczesnosc] proved a seminal moment in Lewczynski’s artistic biography. Its repercussions included establishing an informal group that operated from 1957 to 1960. In 1959 the Photography Association in Gliwice hosted the Closed Presentation — an exhibition accompanied by a discussion with photographers and critics — later dubbed ‘Anti-photography’ by Alferd Ligocki. Lewczynski showed his surrealist-inspired series Wawel Heads [Glowy wawelskie], as well as compositions made by juxtaposing photographs that alluded to the memories of war. At this stage, influenced by Italian neo-realism, Lewczynski also captured rough urban landscapes with run-down backyards, and made photomontages depicting the scenery of industrial Silesia.
With the end of the 1960s, issues of history and memory came to the fore in Lewczynski’s practice. The Subjective Photography [Fotografia subiektywna] exhibition, held in Krakow in 1968, featured compositions made by combining reproductions of amateur photographs and text – among them Childhood [Dziecinstwo], a work that drew on photographs from his family album. From 1970 onwards, Lewczynski began collecting old damaged negatives which he then developed, reviving the memories of people, events and places. The Triptych Found in the Attic [Tryptyk znaleziony na strychu], shown in the Warsaw exhibition Photographers-Explorers [Fotografowie poszukujący] in 1971, tells a tale of the Eisenbach family from Sanok. This set of glass negatives made by Jozef Eisenbach during the First World War gave birth to the ongoing project Negatives.
Private film found on a street in New York (Negatives Found in NYC [Negatywy znalezione w Nowym Jorku], 1979) inspired Lewczynski to try to find information about photographed individuals. This endeavor led him to formulate the theoretical concept of the ARCHEOLOGY OF PHOTOGRAPHY. Lewczynski described it as action aimed at discovering, researching and commenting on events, facts or situations, that took place once, in the so-called photographic past. Owing to photography, the continuity of visual contact with the past offers the opportunity for the wider influence of historical culture-forming layers on the present. (…) It is also among the aims of archeology of photography to search for witnesses of past events! In the case of photography, such a witness is the light (…), that sculpted the once popular presence on the negative! Unlike postmodernists, eager to employ quotes from other artists’ works, Lewczynski highlights not only the characters in the photographs but also their authors. Among the effects of the search he conducted was a successful restoration of some 400 works by Feliks Lukowski, a peasant documenting the Zamojszczyzna region in the years 1940-49, as well as the rediscovery of the oeuvre of Wilhelm von Blandowski, a 19th-century pioneer of photography. It was his efforts that helped preserve the output of Krzysztof Vorbrodt. Through research on forgotten photography, Lewczynski attempts to offer commentary on present day reality.

(prepared by Maria Kosinska)

15.04.2015 16:23:50

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Jerzy Lewczyński
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Jerzy Lewczyński
Negative - Untilted