From April 17 to May 8 the exhibition Peripheral Landscape [Krajobraz peryferyjny] was on view at the Association for the Encouragement of Fine Arts [Zacheta] in Lublin. The presentation was accompanied by a lecture on the oeuvre of Zbigniew Dlubak delivered by Karolina Lewandowska.
Zbigniew Dlubak, an eminent artist, theorist and educator, is best known for his experimental photographic works – be they photographs from 1947-50 with references to surrealism and constructivism, later semiotics-inspired plates with sequences of nudes, or his last project Asymmetry [Asymetria] developed over more than 20 years. Not many strictly documentary photographs can be found in Dlubak’s body of work, and an even smaller number remain widely known. The artist’s fascination with photographic realism reached a peak in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. It was then that he began his “study of seeing” from scratch, by photographing unattractive cityscapes and suburban scenes and searching for expressive forms in the poverty-stricken reality which resulted in his series Existences [Egzystencje]. This period still calls for more thorough research, but most likely the earliest landscapes, photographs of Warsaw’s Praga and Wola districts, refer to some extent to the aesthetics represented by the members of the pre-war Fotoclub. Such a shift after a period of daring experiments can seem surprising, all the more so that Dlubak did not hide his aversion to “picturesque” photography. His early landscapes and vedute of the “new kind” betray an interest in the qualities of chiaroscuro. Simultaneously, during his countryside excursions Dlubak took photographs of fields and forests, striving to go beyond the accepted conventions of the “Homeland Photography” [Fotografia Ojczysta], and the rules of landscape photography. The first works that challenged those canons were presumably taken ca. 1953. From the mid-1950s Dlubak sought to find a new formula for cityscapes, closely investigating old tenement houses in a not-yet-rebuilt Warsaw. In 1957 the artist moved to from Wola to Mokotow district where, in the immediate vicinity of his new home, he made a series of works that revolutionized thinking about photographic landscape.
The photographs shown in the Peripheral Landscape exhibition were apparently taken in the period between the late 1950s and the early ‘60s. The earliest of these date back to 1955. All of them were taken with a 6 x 6 cm camera, though some were framed by the artist to a rectangular format in the development process. The series consists of some fifty negatives selected by the artist. However, the first exhibition prints were made as late as 1970s, and only a handful of them were displayed or published earlier.
The series of desolate, foggy and melancholic landscapes sits on the margins of the neo-realist current, characteristic in the “Thaw” period of 1953 – 59. However some of the works, mostly featureless landscapes from the outskirts of Mokotow, are an example of a successful neutralization of all tricks which would make the image more attractive. Such a conscious negation of the rhetoric of forms employed in photography which defines itself as artistic, is unparalleled not only in contemporary Poland, but likewise rare on an international scale. The first noted attempts at such a neutralization of landscape appeared at the turn of 1960s, among authors such as Robert Adams, whose works were brought together in the exhibition New Topographics. In the early 1970s such attempts were also made in Poland, e.g. in a series by Elzbieta Tejchman. Nonetheless it is only in retrospect, with a broader knowledge in the field of documentary photography, that we are able to appreciate such works.