Introduction by Jemima Montagu
Jorge Lewinski has been photographing artists since the early 1960s. As an aspiring young photographer he chose not celebrities, actors or writers as his subject matter but artists, his fellow image-makers. Over the last 40 years he has photographed over 300 artists, often returning to photograph the same person over a number of years, and has developed an evolving portrait not only of the artists themselves but also the changing styles of British art in this remarkable period.
Lewinski was born in Lwow, Poland (now Ukraine) in 1921. His grandfather was a distinguished architect and town planner, and his father a writer and linguist. His youth was marked by the difficulties of survival under Russian occupation, resulting in internment and forced labour in Siberia. He was eventually drafted into the Polish army, serving with Allied forces in the Middle East, and was finally sent to Britain in 1942 to train in the RAF. At the end of the war he chose to stay in Britain and has remained in his adoptive country ever since. Lewinski initially studied economics, and only began to practise photography as an amateur while working in business. But in 1966, having developed a name for himself through the portraiture of artists, he turned professional. Since then he has become the pre-eminent photographer of artists in Britain, although he is also known for his landscape photographs. Lewinski was Senior Lecturer at the London College of Printing from 1968 to 1982 and he is admired as both a teacher and writer on photography. He is married to Mayotte Magnus, the photographer, and lives between England and France.
His latest retrospective at Sotheby's, in January 2004, brought together a large cross-section of Lewinski's portraits of artists since 1962. Lewinski emphasised that he did not want to include only photographs of established figures in the pantheon of British art but to show images of artists who may now be forgotten, offering a more comprehensive overview of his own work as well as the different artistic practices he has documented. This selection embraces artists as diverse as Euston Road School painter William Coldstream and exuberant abstract painter Terry Frost. Lewinski photographed Coldstream in 1963 when he was at the height of his influence as Professor at the Slade School of Art. His portrait of the taut-featured man standing by an easel expresses the restraint of this rigorous realist painter, bound by traditions which were rapidly becoming outdated. In contrast Terry Frost, whom Lewinski photographed on five separate occasions, was one of a younger generation of artists who pioneered the development of abstract painting after the Second World War. His extravagant bright abstracts, always shown in the background of Lewinski's portraits, breathed new life into painting in Britain.
'Don't look only at the face', Lewinski often told his students, 'always look behind.' Lewinski's photographs draw out dramatic connections between artist and setting, which is usually the artist's studio. Although his photographs are not staged - 'I nudge the artists into position', says Lewinski - they are suggestively posed in the artist's own environment. Lewinski's 1963 portrait of Eduardo Paolozzi shows the artist brooding and Brando-esque. He hugs a mechanical sculpture and his studio is an industrial warehouse in which the 'artist as worker' struggles with his trade. These images feed into a romantic tradition of portraiture in which the psychology of the artist is laid bare in the setting and accessories around them. Unlike the snap-shot aesthetic of many contemporary portraits, Lewinski has said that he wished to 'achieve a deeper kind of portrait - portraits which not only describe a person but give the viewer an insight into the imaginative world of each sitter.' Lewinski's scrutinising eye brings out many visual rhymes and puns which relate to the work of each artist. Hockney's sensuous pose as he sprawls back over an armchair (1963) links the artist to the homoerotic figures in his paintings behind, while Henry Moore, giant of British sculpture, is pictured dwarfed by the tidal curves of his stone monument. Perhaps Lewinski's unique ability to penetrate his subjects may be linked to his role as émigré - always the outsider looking in, trying to make sense of the strange world of the artist.