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Krzysztof Giera速owski's Photography

Ryszard Bobrowski

It is beyond any doubt that a portrait is the oldest subject of Polish photographs. Daguerreotypists and first followers of Talbot's method used it. Portrait played an important patriotic role during the January Insurrection in 1863. The method developed dynamically in the times of studio photography and was enabled in the times of pictorialism. It was familiar to experimental photographers of the period between the two World Wars, who produced various versions of it starting with Constuctivism and ending at Surrealism. It also took the form of a war report including pictures from the Warsaw Uprising. That tradition continued after the War finding followers among various groups, from reporters to the representatives of the avant garde. Portraits have become so popular that only a few photographers are trying to introduce something new to the rich tradition. There are even fewer who know how to seal it with a stamp of individuality. Krzysztof Giera速owski is such a photographer.

Giera速owski's photographs are an interesting phenomenon in Poland. He started in the sixties from the press photography and it became his natural form of expression. He worked for different publications among which was a magazine for students: ITD. It heralded an open-doors policy inviting famous and strong minded people who presented different views. The journalists interviewed those celebrities in an nonconventional manner, which reminded rather of a fight in a boxing ring than of a drawing-room conversation. The guests were university professors, artists, politicians etc. The magazine was in result attractive and its message reached lots of readers.
An agressive character of the interviews in ITD suited the nature and character of Krzysztof Giera速owski. He found wonderful grounds for publishing equally nonconventional photographs there. He wasn't interested, however, in elegant images of celebrities, who most of his models were. He reached out much further trying to show them not the way they wanted to be seen but the way he saw them during consecutive rounds on the " boxing ring ", calculating or cautious, harsh or even brutal, decided or doubtful, ruthless for their own weaknesses, risk-taking, demagogues etc.
Giera速owski perceived and photographed them in a way to dramatize them applying his natural gift for expression, exaggeration or even caricature. His pictures skillfully displayed in the magazine immediately attracted attention. They were admired or criticized, praised or attacked, it was hard, however, to remain indifferent. Giera速owski developed and perfected that method thus creating his own unique way of taking pictures, his own style. A style of black and white expressive photographs. Could this style be repeated in colour and how?

We come across experiments with colour throughout the entire history of photography (to mention hand tinted daguerreotypes and cartes-de-visite, autochromes, colour prints etc.), one can speak of a serious use of colour starting from photographs taken after the Second World War. Even then, however, colour photography remained overshadowed by the traditional black and white one. It was mostly due to photographers, who used that method and except for Eliot Porter or Ernst Haas, were fanatically attached to this erroniously interpreted aesthetics. Some of them created black and white photos in colour i.e. they totally ignored the role and function of colour in a photographic image, which was accidental or foreign to their work. Others were interested in colour only for its beautiful compositions that were pleasant to the viewer's eye and were generously offered by Nature, e.g. sunrises and sunsets, golden autumn mists and dawns etc. In both cases those experiments failed. In the first one the meaning of colour was totally ignored and in the second-colour was used as a tool to convey personal or emotional impressions.
It was in the seventies that a new generation of photographers appeared. Those were William Egglestone, Joel Mayerowitz, Stephen Shore, Helen Levitt and others who changed the situation. They treated colour as seriously as their predecessors a few generations before had been treating light, form, perspective or composition in order to create a new kind of photography and new aesthetics.
Seen as a unity they show awareness and consistency of an outlook on world and constructing photographic images via colour, even though some might say that an amateur could have taken them too.
That movement appeared in Polish photography much later, in the eighties and nineties, and Giera速owski is one of its few representatives. His struggle with colour is for many reasons a very interesting process.
He belongs to the generation of photographers whose awareness and sensitivity were shaped by two colours: black and white. There is no mechanical transposition of that method to colour photography and it should not be perceived that way. Giving up the black and white method for colour is neither easy nor obvious. Even the renowned portraitist, Richard Avedon, when he decided that he needed to change his current style did not choose colour. He headed for large sizes of pictures of his accidental or anonymous models and not of celebrities (e.g. In the American West).
Giera速owski is attracted, however, neither by large sizes of photos nor the anonymity of models. He is interested in colour in photography.
Thus his never ending search diverging in all, sometimes conflicting, directions.
In his work he usually eliminates all elements which would indicate the model's interests or profession. The image becomes a unity, a synthesis, the essence of a picture in both its form and contents. He scarcely includes elements of a landscape in the image, which somehow characterise the model's work or character (as in the case of a sculptor, Barbara Falender) or not at all (as the self-portrait in the water). In his subsequent photographs Giera速owski seeks means of aesthetic expression, he also changes his model's face e.g. by putting on make up and lipstick (the portrait of an actor, Gustaw Holoubek). Those are only a few examples.
Sometimes the photographer seems to forget about the necessity to separate the black and white experience from colour photography. When he becomes aware of it he uses colour not only as the means of natural expression but also as an element of a consistently constructed photographic image (the portraits of Czes豉w Mi這sz or the ONA vocalist, Agnieszka Chylinska).

Giera速owski faces still another challenge regardless of what was said above.
He has been taking pictures of celebrities, artists, politicians, playboys and front page personalities. They all want good photos, never mind their profession or social standing, which to their minds means such photos they wouldn't be ashamed of. Here the natural need of everybody to look one's best clashes with the artist's point of view, for whom the model's good looks don't count as much as the appropriate means to convey his artistic image. That is where Giera速owski's eternal dilemma is born: how can his natural tendency to expose, to exaggerate, to caricature, in one word-to deform coexist with the necessity to satisfy the expectations of those celebrities.
We may say, toutes proportions gard嶪s, that the photographer's choice is similar to the dilemma of Tamara Lempicka, a famous portraitist of celebrities between the two World Wars. Just like Giera速owski she portrayed representatives of the establishment and just like him she didn't want to stick to representational realism in her work. She wanted her paintings to become a part of the art of her times. She was the follower of Cubism, which fractured, distorted and deformed everything it presented, thus in the case of her portraits it should deform those demanding celebrities. Lempicka was aware that if she stuck to distortion only she would not be appreciated (and, let's admit, would not get any gratifying commission). That is why she needed to compromise. She allowed herself the cubist deformation of objects surrounding the model, his clothes, draperies, furniture etc. while keeping the realistic approach to the model.
Will Giera速owski find a formula for his colour portrait photographs? What will it be? We do not know. We can be certain, however, that in his perennial experiments and search he will provide us, the viewers, with many surprising emotions. That makes for the unique value and exceptional quality of Krzysztof Giera速owski in Polish photography.

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