Photography as a medium of artistic expression is unique in that, between the artist and his creation, there is image-recording equipment. This, together with the reproducibility of a photographic image, is at odds with the concept of art as the unique signature and gesture of an artist who creates inimitable records of reality.
It is not surprising therefore that art photographers have always been tempted to interfere with photographic images, driven by the incessant urge to take a hand in the creative process. The manifestations of this creative urge include touched-up daguerreotypes, hand-coloured photographs, working with emulsion, and manually retouching negatives and prints. This uniquely creative energy is preserved thanks to the melange of mechanical photographic records with the author’s creative intervention. The resulting actions applied to paper, prints or negatives become the author’s signature, his individual stamp and mark.
The Signature exhibition, covering the period from the 1960s until the present day, is a subjective selection of works in which a photographic image has been interfered with by the artist.
From drawings made on the negative by Leszek Wesołowski through scratched-out images by Bartek Wieczorek, images created by imprinting the artist’s hands directly on photographic paper (the Hallucinations/ Traces of Gesture series by Andrzej Pawłowski), studies for Zbigniew Dłubak’s Ikonosfera I installation, interventions into photographic images by the Łódź Kaliska group or by Natalia LL, pages in the Tango magazine authored by Zygmunt Rytka, a postcard with Rytka’s photographs spontaneously sent back by its addressee, Andrzej Partum, after he had modified the image, the original techniques employed by Józef Robakowski (e.g. his transparency images), the three-dimensional shapes created by Dorota Buczkowska, and right up to the destructive interventions into photographs by Piotr Szpilski – this exhibition is focused on the artistic gesture intervening with the mechanics of photography; it is a celebration of the artist’s identification with his work. Reducing the distance between the author and his creation becomes a gesture that is significant to the image as well as to the audience.
The artistic endeavours presented at the exhibition explore the complicated relationship between the material side of the medium of photography and the message it carries. It turns out that the two aspects of photography cannot be easily separated, because the material/matter of a photographic work is intermingled with the image.
In this context, the exhibition can be seen as a contribution to the discussion of referentiality and self-referentiality of photography. This is an issue that photography currently shares with other visual arts media, which certainly facilitates the obliteration of boundaries between them.
As we move from one exhibit to another, we can track the convoluted drift towards the autonomy of photography as a self-sufficient, self-referential object. Perhaps the boldest exploration of this territory is evidenced in Dorota Buczkowska’s three-dimensional forms. At the same time, the title of her work (which refers to J’ai tué la peinture by Niki de Saint Phalle) announces – almost in a paraphrase of Nietzsche – the death of photography. Now, is it death or perhaps just another metamorphosis? This question could be applied to most of the exhibits.
More than once, an artist’s gesture proves to be a means of dialogue between one artist and another, a trace of spiritual genealogy, kinship, or antinomy. In Andrzej Różycki’s work from the Fotoandrzejozofia series, collage becomes an invocation and identification formula that evokes the material presence of Zofia Rydet, a celebrated Polish photographer. One could say that here we see the signature of both artists, a double gesture. The postcard circulating from Rytka to Partum and back constitutes an example of spontaneous communication between artists. The tribute to Andy Warhol authored by the Łódź Kaliska group is a brilliantly ironic comment on the reality of contemporary Poland.
At the exhibition, we also find works referring to archetypal and timeless imagery, e.g. the photograph from the Fluffy Tragedy series by Natalia LL, which exudes a premonition of unfathomed destiny. The transparency deconstructions by Józef Robakowski, the works by Pawłowski, Szpilski, Wesołowski, and Wieczorek all explore matter and corporeality, record traces and gestures to which the term ‘signature’ or indeed ‘handwritten signature’ can be applied in the most literal sense. Finally, we move to Zbigniew Dłubak, who writes notes and marks the areas of interaction between the human body and photosensitive paper on the photographs prepared for his Ikonosfera I installation.
Covering a fifty-year period, the exhibition proves that the artist’s manual gesture has been constantly present in the works of several generations of Polish art photographers. Naturally, the exhibition does not pretend to offer an exhaustive treatment of this issue, whose significance and deep historical roots were thoroughly described by Urszula Czartoryska in her classic yet still relevant texts.
The Signature exhibition is based on the private collection of photographs titled MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK, whose main theme is the broadly understood interference of an artist’s hand in photographic images and the representation of hands in photography.