Dlubak took his first photographs during a stay at a sanatorium in Otwock. Taken with a borrowed 35mm camera, the works explored the various possibilities of the equipment. The early photographs betray a range of avant-garde inspirations, characteristic of pre-war practice, primarily from the constructivist and surrealist traditions, but also New Objectivity. These experiments, developing towards sensual and murky abstraction, were interrupted by the imposition of a defined model of socialist realism.
It took less than a year, between 1954-1955, to complete Warsaw’s 10th Anniversary Stadium. It was officially opened to the public on the occasion of the World Festival of Youth and Students in July 1955. A series of over 30 photographs in which Dlubak captured the final stages of the Stadium’s construction remained hitherto unknown.
In 1950 Zbigniew Dlubak began developing his “Landscapes” series which marked the end of the radical formal experiments that characterized his practice in the late 1940s. After the first tests with outdoor photography, which betrayed his fascination with mood and chiaroscuro qualities, the artist found his own way of breaking with the picturesque tendencies that dominated Polish landscape photography at the time. Up until 1962, when the series was concluded, Dlubak was taking subdued, unattractive, shots of Warsaw and its surroundings, where monotony, a lack of contrast, and banality in regard to the motif photographed, became a formal principle.
The “Existences” series consists of photographs of interiors, mostly of the artist’s own apartment and studio, as well as nudes. This documentary-like, yet very perceptive, record of empty spaces bears traces of neorealism inspired by cinematography. Some photographs from the series were used in the photo-environment “Iconosphere I”.
In 1962 Zbigniew Dlubak employed photography in the decor of men’s textile store “Adam” in Warsaw at Swietokrzyska Street. The project was mentioned by Urszula Czartoryska in “Fotografia” magazine (issue 9/1962) as well as in her book “Artistic Adventures of Photography” [Przygody plastyczne fotografii]. Documentation of the décor, as well as subsequent stages of its production, were hitherto unknown. Most likely some of the boards designed by Dlubak were meant for a textile store for women.
The labyrinthine structure constructed with photographic prints from the “Existences” series was first exhibited in 1967 in the Wspolczesna Gallery. Near the entrance Dlubak presented overlaying images of a female body. Further on were nudes and photographs of the artist’s immediate surroundings – the apartment and furniture in the studio. The prints were attached only by their upper border. In “Fotografia” magazine (issue 5 1967) Urszula Czartoryska wrote: “in the second part, deeper into the labyrinth, a great number of prints depicting nudes and household equipment were ‘hung out to dry’ chaotically creating an impression of an informal studio exhibition.” The viewing was closed by three plates with an imprint of the body of a female model made directly onto photosensitive paper in life-size scale. One of them was used as a backdrop for screening slides of an open and closed hand, which, along with the dynamic lighting, produced an impression of movement.
Dlubak presented “Iconosphere II” at the exhibition “Subjective Photography” [Fotografia subiektywna] in the Bureau of Art Exhibitions [BWA] in Krakow. In order to enter the environment in the gallery corridor, the viewer had to pass through fragmented photographs depicting the central portion of a female body: crotch, stomach and shoulders. In farther parts of the installation, hung photographs of a female’s legs and back, taken from a worm's eye view, cut into four vertical strips and divided. On the walls Dlubak mounted plates with the photograph which opened the installation multiplied. http://www.archeologiafotografii.pl/en/admin/content/image/edit/93At the end of the environment, between the plates, hung a massive close-up of a female nipple.
“Relop” is a project for an optical device designed by Zbigniew Dlubak, Andrzej Lachowicz and Natalia Lach-Lachowicz during the Symposium Wroclaw ’70. The instrument was to consist of an array of mirrors, a group of periscopes and an ‘optical bench’. All elements were meant to be placed in the urban space of Wroclaw. In an unpublished interview with Karolina Lewandowska, Zbigniew Dlubak described the working principle of the periscopes in the following way: ”one of these served to observe the clouds, another branches, while still another showed traffic on a street, etc. All of this created a whole before a viewer”. While an explanatory note from the authors read: “by the dislocation of images and the simultaneous presentation of distant objects and events, we want to stimulate the viewer’s imagination by making them aware of the fact that the process of perception takes place precisely in such way, therefore the order of the inside world is different than the order of the outside world. The working of this instrument proves that art is incidentally created beyond the sign-object, consequently, it is an intentional object.” The project remained unrealized.
For his third installation of the "Iconosphere" series, rather than arranging a photographic environment, Dłubak presented images of nude female backs against a flat wall. He arranged pairs of identical prints into vertical strips, producing a mirror-image effect. A fragment (one vertical strip) of "Iconosphere III" was first presented in the artist’s monographic exhibition at the International Book and Press Club (EMPiK) in Warsaw in 1970. The full version was unveiled a year later at Warsaw’s Współczesna Gallery.
A joint project undertaken with Andrzej Lachowicz and Natalia Lach-Lachowicz set out to examine the relationship between reality and its mechanical record – the photograph. “Mutants” was an experiment, a playing with the process of transforming an image. The project falls in line with works in which Zbigniew Dlubak examined the possibilities of applying the principles of linguistics to art: the adequacy of structural linguistic analyses of the “signifier”, the “signified”, and the “referent”, in the art field. Mutants is both a set of photographs published in “Odra” magazine (issue 3 1971) as well as a comprehensive exhibition project shown in the “Pod Mona Liza” Gallery in 1971. Antoni Dzieduszycki described the presentation in the following way:
”In the gallery’s exhibition hall, which serves as the passage way of the International Book and Press Clubs [MPiK], appeared an enormous white cube which forced those wanting to pass to almost squeeze by the walls. The cube was cut in half horizontally, and its two parts slightly shifted in relation to each other. Considering the object alone one could say it operated under the principles of the “minimal art” tendency, but it was not the proper work on view, rather it was a kind of exhibition scaffolding. On the front of the cube one saw a massive black text MUTANTS. And this writing seemed to work independently through its form. On the side of the cube were massive initials of the authors, their photographs, names and the first three out of a series of fifteen photographs. While the photographs, which were the main focus of the show, were exhibited on the back of the cube, as if they were the least important part…”
It was in “Tautologies” that the artist most radically addressed the mechanisms of perception, its epistemological value, the relationship between “the depicting” and “the depicted” and the role of art. The artist creates a dialogue between the awareness of physical reality (the real existence of objects) and photography, which creates a new value as, while it is a being in itself, it is also capable of depicting another being. This dialogue allows for dismantling the patterns of perceiving reality. “I only seemingly juxtapose real objects with their photographic images. What I do in fact is juxtapose two images. I question the identity of an image and an object. Juxtaposition of two images of one object has a tautological character. I use two questionable elements to create a conviction on the real existence of objects” – wrote the author about the work.
“Systems”, a group of painterly and photographic works, formed a point of departure for the photographic series titles „Gesticulations”. The painting part consists of a series of abstract works in which Dlubak divided the canvas into sets of regular stripes in various shades of one color. The photographic part on the other hand comprised two series “Gesticulations” and “Collection”. The former is a set of plates, 12 black-and-white photographs each, mounted on canvas to create stripes. Every photographs features a different gesture from a sequence planned by Zbigniew Dlubak. The poses were presented by a nude model photographed from the knees up to the neck. The photographs also depict the model’s hands against a neutral backdrop or her crotch. Contrary to “Gesticulations” which possess a fixed structure, the “Collection” is a set of arbitrary gestures or one pose captured on a number of photographs. The series also includes four-element plates which depict the same gesture performed by three female models.
The work “Ocean” was based on a series of photographs taken by Zbigniew Dlubak in 1972 during his boat cruise to the United States. Dlubak saw the work as a form of manifesto which referred to more than perception: the essence of life. Photographs of the ocean served as visual backdrops for reflection. The piece was to offer the viewer an opportunity to confront eternal nature. The note accompanying Zbigniew Dlubak’s individual exhibition held in 1973 at the Permafo Gallery read:
”- to annihilate the impulse to evaluate,
- to accept the banal in the most ordinary way, without emphasizing the exotic aspect of everyday reality,
- to identify oneself with the outside world in order to abandon the false feeling of being superior to surroundings
- to reject the conviction of making a sacrifice of oneself for the sake of art
- to abandon the thought of the imperfectness of rejecting everything
- to be.”
‘Desymbolization’ is a process of cleansing objects of their symbolic meaning and neutralizing the cultural code used to interpret them. In the photographic series, the meaning of certain gestures (greeting, blessing), objects (a relief-carved matzevot), or painting compositions (e.g. Jan Matejko’s or Jacek Malczewski’s) remains in a sphere of potentiality. Rather than destroying the symbols themselves, Desymbolizations show their power of action. The series was informed by Dłubak’s ‘empty sign’ theory, developed by the artist from the mid-1970s onwards and so described by Adam Sobota: "(...) the theory highlights the destructive aspect of an art whose aim would be to overthrow the established rules of cognition. What would be described as art is this faculty of the mind that enables a constant cognitive effort towards reality. The construction of an ‘empty sign’ – the proper object of art – can take place only through the desymbolization of existing signs." (A. Sobota, Dłubak. "Prace z lat 1945-80", exh. cat., Wrocław: Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, February-March 1981)
The photographic series comprises several three-part ‘sets’ composed according to the same rule. The first photograph in a set shows a female model putting on or taking off a garment: bra, panties, tights. The second image repeats the composition as the naked model performs the same action, but this time only pretending to be holding a garment. In the final photograph, only hands performing the gestures from the former two are shown against a black background. Devoid of their descriptive attributes – the woman’s body and the pieces of clothing – the hand gestures become abstract. This reduction of composition to a seemingly empty gesture is a reference to the "Gesticulations" series, which the artist had concluded in 1978, and to the ‘empty sign’ theory.
Dłubak started taking photographs for the series in 1983, two years after starting a same-titled painting series. The paintings are filled with flat minimalist compositions, often comprising just two elements: a uniform background and a fragment of a rectangle, arranged so that its sides are not parallel with the edges of the painting. The background and the rectangle are rendered in slightly different hues of the same colour, causing them to blur in together in the viewer’s eye.
The photographic "Asymmetry" project comprises several series: trees, paperboards, faces, fragments of the body – the result of years of scrutiny over seemingly uniform or symmetrical surfaces of objects, plants, biological spaces. "Asymmetry" is also Dłubak’s manifesto about the photographic image, which, he says, does not adhere to reality. According to Dłubak, photography is always a distortion and a creation, and is always asymmetrical towards the world.
For Zbigniew Dłubak, drawings were an auxiliary tool in photographic and painting practice. In the 1940s, they were his academy, as he was an autodidact draughtsman. In 1945, at the Mauthausen concentration camp, eight days before liberation, Dłubak, Marian Bogusz, and a Czech artist Zbyňek Sekal organized at one of the camp barracks, on a bunk bed put upright, a clandestine drawing exhibition. After the war, from the late 1940s on through the 1950s and 1960s, the drawings correspond to the successive painting series, constituting a record of composition and colour studies leading to the making of the final canvas piece. Dłubak treated each sheet of paper on a multiple-purpose basis, painting or sketching on both sides or producing several sketches on one side, which confirms their preliminary character. Seldom exhibited until today, the drawings offer an intriguing insight into the artist’s creative process.