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Kazimierz Zagórski (1883-1944), a Polish officer and engineer, arrived in Africa in the mid-1920s, and opened up a photographic studio in Léopoldville. Apart from taking standard photographs he also initiated a project which he described as 'L'Afrique qui disparaît' and which involved taking photographs in the course of specially arranged journeys, always in the so-called natural environment. The photographs depict native inhabitants of a given territory, 'unsullied' by Western civilisation. Strong emphasis is placed on portraits, executed with great attention, a feeling for form and exceptional care for lighting. The sitters were almost always carefully posed and, as a rule, are distant from stereotypes. The photographs certainly focused on a person and not a certain larger entity, which anthropologists were in the habit of calling culture. Both those portraits which showed only the face and those of a larger fragment of a person display features of individualisation (arrangement, lighting) although Zagórski frequently appeared to attach just as much attention to the sitter's face as to the hairdo, scars or other ornaments (which, it must be stressed, were their owners' pride). Naturally, the Zagórski photographs are not devoid of certain ideological operations (aestheticisation, hieratisation, operations associated with temporality, sometimes a 'sui generis' objectivisation). The decontextualisation which he sometimes allowed himself in portraits treating particular parts of the body as equal brings the applied operations close to certain phenomena discernible in contemporary photography (e. g. R. Mapplethorpe or I. Penn). The text originally accompanied an exhibition of photographs by Kazimierz Zagórski (National Art Gallery Zacheta 2005, with the author as co-curator); now, it has been expanded by means of an appendix containing an extremely interesting album by Edward Piterek, a Polish airman in Africa (mid-1940s), based entirely on photographs-postcards by Zagórski, subjected to special processing and classification
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