Antoni Zdebiak started taking pictures of himself in the second half of the 1970s. It was then that he started his first piece-to-camera series. These explorations were the result of his experiences in experimental theater. Zdebiak quit the stage in the late 1970s, devoting himself professionally and artistically to photography. Yet he continued to direct, choreograph and act in one-man performances, which he consistently documented throughout his life. His performative photographs are rooted in the conceptual art tradition of the 1970s and 80s.
One of Zdebiak’s main artistic tools was his own body. He took pictures of himself in an improvised studio, but the setting most frequently encountered in his images is that of Mięćmierz, a village on the banks of the Vistula river.
Along with staged, performative photographs, Zdebiak consistently, almost obsessively, pursued a project of Witkacy-esque self-portrait sessions.
“Each man is furthest from himself — where we ourselves are concerned, we are not ‘knowledgeable people.’” This quotation from Nietzche’s On the Genealogy of Morals accompanied Zdebiak throughout his life and guided his personal and artistic explorations, in which the self-portrait played a crucial role as a tool for self-study. Yet the power of Antoni Zdebiak’s photographs lies not just in their authentic depiction of personal experience, but in their universality. Using his body, face and life story, he grappled with themes of death, fear, los and enlightenment.
Antoni Zdebiak (1951–1991) was a photographer, actor and performance artist. He worked as a photojournalist for the magazines ITD, Perspektywy and Razem. His photographs appeared on the covers of albums by such bands as Republika, Budka Suflera and Siekera. The Archeology of Photography Foundation has been processing his archives since 2016