April 23: The medium of time, light and space invites playfulness in solitary contemplation.
Michel Szulc-Krzyzanowski was born on this date in Oosterhout in 1949 and has a solo show in progress until May 28, 2017 at CODA Museum, Vosselmanstraat 299, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.
Szulc-Krzyzanowski has made conceptual photography sequences on deserted beaches in Netherlands, France, Morocco, the United States and Mexico, and documentary photography that is published in books, magazines and newspapers and also presented in exhibitions. He exhibited the sequences for the first time in 1971 and at the Camden Arts Centre in London, UK the year after.
To look at just one example is to see that they are intended to force a double-take in the viewer. At first glance we take these to be a set of adjacent vertical 35mm frames made to form a panorama, but they preset us with a dilemma, a floating figure performing a remarkable echappés sautés – splits in mid-jump – but with the feet barely leaving the ground. It looks as if the silhouetted figure has bowing in a divine state of disembodiment and has escaped the earth. On each side the position of foot, footprint and the shadow of the foot set up a spatial ambiguity, as if either the foot, or the shadow, or both, have made the footprint. Marks in the sand formed by the waves form a forcefield around the figure, and on either side are the tracks of a human and a dog. It’s a suitably ‘cosmic’ image for the hippy seventies.
The set of three photographs encourages inspection to decipher how this trick is done, and they reveal that very little actual bodily or photographic contortion is involved. Szulc-Krzyzanowski willingly shares this through the construction of the image; a time sequence that reveal the mechanics. He has lifted his feet separately to photograph them and then stood, legs akimbo and bending forward whilst photographing with the camera hidden within his shadow.
Others of the series centre more emphatically on time and space. The Essaouira of the title is a port city and resort on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, where I assume signifies where this picture was taken. The series follows the Sun’s reflection in water in a hole in the sand by approaching the hole more closely to track the Sun as it rises in the sky (or sinks, with the series reversed in presentation). A zoom lens accommodates the closing distance between shots, to maintain the same relative sizes. It is a simple enough solar observation but not one often expressed in a photograph.
He continues experiments with scale as well as time throughout the sequences, and the work is not only photography but includes some serious beachcombing to secure the props he needs for sets such as this one in which ‘sand dollars’ (sea urchin skeletons) of various sizes are recruited to complete this Alice in Wonderland illusion.
All of the images have the same playfulness enjoyed by a child on the beach, drawing in the sand with…
that exploratory perception that children have. I see it as a continuation of a capacity we had as a child. To wonder at everything there is to see around us.
Along with the childlike discovery comes personal growth…both eloquently expressed in this series of shadow and its outline in the sand, again with the sequence reversed to represent growing rather than shrinking.
Szulc Krzyzanowski confirms that sense of happy experimentation in his blog posts about his ‘pilgrimages’.
I’m preoccupied with photography all day long. The work is constantly on my mind. The images loom up. Ideas come and go. I’m totally immersed in the creative process. When I first arrive at the beach in Mexico after a long journey it takes a while for the creative process to get underway. It gradually builds up and eventually reaches a climax. Then suddenly it’s all over. Then I leave. There’s no need for me to stay at my post any more. But I can spin out the creative process for a very long time. I can make it last for two to three months. With regular interruptions when the food supplies run out. Then I make a hurried trip into town, travelling half a day, quickly buy in food and water, sort out various matters and then get back to work as fast as I can. It’s almost an obsession.
Alone for long periods of time Szulc Krzyzanowski indeed becomes a ‘pilgrim’ or photographic hermit. That accounts for the refinement of the imagery. Shot on film, he no doubt had to wait until he was in a place with running water to be able to see what he had shot, and so had to depend on his visualisation through the viewfinder and a visual memory of each sequence as it is built.
Unfortunately the sequences available on this photographer’s website are very small JPGs, and being sequences, consist of prints that become almost illegible when there are as many as seven across as above. However the detail is probably sufficient to see this idea; that rendered on the flat plane of a photographic print the incoming sea foam becomes a sheet or cloth blind being pulled over the image by the photographer’s shadow, his only companion and model in so many of his images as on this late afternoon in Chancevigny in Bourgogne, France.
There was a hiatus in 1985 when he discontinued the sequences, feeling that after 14 years they had run their course, before he recommenced them in 1995 returning to the same beach, El Triple, within Baja California Sur and nearby to El Tomate, La Ballena and La Aguja. There he produced numbers of medium-format images in colour printed to a large scale. A photo-book of this work was published called VISTA issued by Focus Publishing. In 2000 Szulc-Krzyzanowski moved from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to live and work in Cadaques, Spain then in 2005 left Cadaques to live to become permanently nomadic. In 2006, after being occupied with video-making, he returned to making single images again for the photo-book The PS-series, named for the digital manipulation of these pictures.
Szulc-Krzyzanowski has applied the time-series to works in a documentary mode such as the photo-project ‘Henny’; an arbitrary chosen Dutch woman whom he has followed photographically in her daily life since her 16th year for over 36 years, published so far in six photo-books alongside projects undertaken in Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Canada.