Eustachy Kossakowski Archive
Warszawa Pańska 3, Poland
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Name of collection
- The Eustachy Kossakowski Archive
Provenance and cultural activities
Despite graduating from The Faculty of Architecture of Warsaw University of Technology, Eustachy Kossakowski decided to pursue a career in photography.
Since 1957 he had cooperated with socio-cultural illustrated magazines, such as „Polska”, „Ty i Ja”, „Zwierciadło”, „Stolica”. These titles, published officially, aimed at presenting a positive and attractive image of economic, cultural and everyday life in the Polish People’s Republic. They may also be seen as an effect of a “thaw” in political atmosphere after 1956.
As Andrzej Dobosz put it, the reporters of the “Polska” magazine “recorded not the image of Gomułka’s Poland [First Secretary of the Party], of authorities and their rituals, but rather the actual country, existing in spite of it all (…). The Poland of Tatarkiewicz, Kotarbiński, Ossowski, Aleksander Gieysztor, Hugon Steinhaus, the Sołtans: physicist and architect, of Irena Eichlerówna and Halina Mikołajska, including the surviving parts of Warsaw, the European city of the 1930s, the streets with posters of Henryk Tomaszewski, Lenica, Młodożeniec, the buildings of Jerzy Hryniewiecki and Zbigniew Karpiński”. In brief: the most interesting affairs in science and culture of those times. On one hand, it was “a very high quality propaganda undertaking”, but on the other: “it was the only easily accessible nationwide magazine providing news on people and phenomena barely tolerated by the authorities”.
Kossakowski, travelling through Warsaw and Poland on his Lambretta scooter, created tens of black and white reportages. One can see how the Warsaw New Year’s Eve looked like in 1959, have a look at “the opening of the Supersam”, witness “figure skating training in Torwar arena” or have a glimpse of hospital corridors of an orthopaedic ward. Images of a socialist state going through industrial revolution are also present (“Sulphur industry in Tarnobrzeg”, “Kasprzak plants”). There is a jazz concert of Dizzy Gillespie, lecture of prof. Leszek Kołakowski from 1965, as well as a reportage from the film set of the cult comedy “Hydrozagadka” from 1970. There are also political and diplomatic events, like “The visit of American athletes in Poland”, “Hiroshima-Oświęcim Peace March” from 1963 or a reportage on “Algerian soldiers at the rehabilitation centre in Śrem near Poznan”. Photographs from this period are also organized by themes, including: “Industrial Architecture in Poland”, “Medicine”, “Science”, “City”, “Sport”, “Countryside”, “Aircraft”, “Everyday Life”, “Portraits”, “Culture”, “Fashion”.
All this constitutes a unique visual record of economic, political, sport, cultural and everyday life in Polish People’s Republic of the late 1950s and 1960s.
In 1966 an avant-garde Foksal Gallery was founded in Warsaw, on the initiative of critics and artists interested in conceptual art and the art of ephemeral events.
Since the beginning, Eustachy Kossakowski was the gallery’s visual chronicler. He photographed exhibitions, happenings, installations and environment art pieces, but also the private and social life of the artists.
Thus, he started to collaborate with the nowadays most acclaimed artists of the period, like Tadeusz Kantor or Edward Krasiński. Their ephemeral artistic activities entered the canon of art history also thanks to Kossakowski’s documentation.
This was how one of the most famous and reproduced Polish photographs was created: the documentation of the Panoramic Sea Happening (Panoramiczny Happening Morski), Kantor’s action from 1967 on a Baltic sea beach, during which Krasińki, dressed in a tuxedo, played the role of a conductor directing an orchestra of sea waves.
Kossakowski also photographed events taking place in other avant-garde milieus of the 1960s Poland: Cricot 2 Theatre of Tadeusz Kantor, theatre of Jerzy Grotowski, Krzywe Koło Gallery or Krzysztofory Gallery.
Interestingly, the artists of Foksal Gallery constantly refused to grant photography an artistic status – it was treated merely as documentation. The one exception was the conceptual artist and sculptor Edward Krasiński. Kossakowski, with his background in reportage photography, started to take photos of Krasiński’s installations already during montage, thus capturing the processual aspect of artistic work.
Crossing the boundaries between photography and sculpture, and the ensuing discussion about it in the Foksal milieu were some of the reasons of a conflict between the members that led to group’s disintegration.
Krasiński and Kossakowski proposed an exhibition of large-format photographs, which were supposed to be connected with a blue tape. Krasiński used the blue tape to connect his paintings, graphics and sculptures – overstepping the bounds of canvas onto the gallery walls, but also intervening in other spaces like the walls of buildings, friends’ clothes or even his 3-year-old daughter’s naked body. Other artists rejected this concept of an exhibition and this unprecedented behaviour contributed to the conflict.
Due to disintegration of the environment but also the political atmosphere in the country, in 1970 Kossakowski decided to emigrate to France.
There he started to pursue conceptual photography. He created photographic series, exhibitions and art books centred on one idea. He gained recognition with his series 6 Metres Before Paris (6 metrów przed Paryżem, 1970-1971), presenting “Paris” road signs on the roads accessing the city, along with their suburban surroundings.
Other noteworthy series are the photographs of patches of light created by stained glass windows in the Chartres gothic cathedral – The Lights of Chartres (Światła Chartres, 1983-1990).
Dobosz Andrzej, Eustachy Kossakowski (1925-2001), obituary, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 2001 no 49, p. 15.
Wierzbicka Anna, Eustachy Kossakowski. Fotograf, „Biuletyn Historii Sztuki” 2004, no 3/4, pp. 412-413.
Polit Paweł (ed.), Edward Krasiński. Elementarz ABC, Bunkier Sztuki, Crakow 2008.
Sienkiewicz Karol, Eustachy Kossakowski, profile on the portal Culture.pl 2009, http://culture.pl/pl/tworca/eustachy-kossakowski
Description of content
The archive consists of 150 000 film negatives and 20 000 slides.
They were created in Poland since ca 1945 until 1970, and later on in emigration in France.
The collection is composed of three parts:
The first part are the press reportages, created in cooperation with socio-cultural magazines like „Polska”, „Ty i Ja”, „Zwierciadło”, „Stolica”, since around 1957.
The second part is the documentation of artistic life, including exhibitions, happenings, installations, spectacles, environment art pieces as well as the social life of artists connected to the Foksal Gallery and other avant-garde circles like Cricot 2 Theatre of Tadeusz Kantor, theatre of Jerzy Grotowski, Krzywe Koło Gallery or Krzysztofory Gallery.
The third part comprises conceptual photography projects, which brought Kossakowski recognition in the 1970s in emigration in France.
- photos: 1000-
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Warszawa, Warsaw, Poland
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Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Szenajch, Piotr
Dobosz Andrzej, Eustachy Kossakowski (1925-2001), necrology, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 2001 no 49, p. 15.
Wierzbicka Anna, Eustachy Kossakowski. Fotograf, „Biuletyn Historii Sztuki” 2004, no 3/4, p. 412-413.
Polit Paweł (ed.), Edward Krasiński. Elementarz ABC, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow 2008.
Sienkiewicz Karol, Eustachy Kossakowski, profile on website Culture.pl 2009, http://culture.pl/pl/tworca/eustachy-kossakowski
Jarosz, Robert , interview by Szenajch, Piotr, December 12, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection