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Kasimir Zgorecki (1904-1980) – from Recklinghausen to the pantheon of French photography

Karzimierz Zgórecki: Self-portrait, photograph 1994, private ownership
Kazimierz Zgórecki: Self-portrait (self-portrait 1994), black and white photograph, print 2019, privately owned by the family, published in the Louvre-Lens exhibition catalogue

In 1980, Kasimir Zgorecki died in northern France, after working for many years as a successful photographer there. He passed on his passion for photography to both his sons Jacques and Alfred. They too managed their own photography studios, with Jacques taking over his father’s studio in Rouvroy, which had been producing photos for many decades.[1] The historical value of Zgorecki’s longstanding passion was only properly understood after his death in the 1990s, when his granddaughter’s husband Frédéric Lefever discovered 4,000 negatives in the family’s estate consisting of old glass plates which had been kept in the attic of the apartment over the studio.[2] His entire collection must actually have been a lot bigger considering that the crater of a bomb blast in the studio’s garden during the Second World War was covered with negatives.[3] More negatives were confiscated by the police after the blast, which also destroyed part of the photo lab.[4]

The photographs that Lefever rediscovered were taken between 1924 and 1939 and as historical documents, have kept a piece of Polish tradition alive outside the free Polish state. In the post-war years as well, many Polish citizens went on to seek better living conditions abroad and did not consider the repatriation option. That is why Zgorecki’s motifs show the everyday lives of Polish emigrants in a French mining region who, at the beginning of the 20th century, managed to keep their culture alive.

Kasimir Zgorecki’s family originally hailed from the region around Poznań, where his father was born in 1876.[5] At the time, this region was part of Prussian territory, and any job opportunities there were mainly in agriculture.[6] The population growth that had persisted since the middle of the 19th century and the expansion of large land holdings produced, in Poznań particularly, a multitude of impoverished agricultural workers who were employed as seasonal workers or day labourers.[7] The living conditions resulted in an exodus from rural areas; the workers, some of whom were unskilled, moved into towns located in mining regions. This resulted in a considerable decline in population in and around Poznań.[8] These migratory movements were taking place around the time that Zgorecki’s father was settling in the Ruhr area after embarking on the so-called internal migration in Prussia, presumably to make a fresh start as an unskilled labourer.

 

[1] Frédéric Lefever: Kasimir Zgorecki, p. 11.

[2] Frédéric Lefever: Kasimir Zgorecki, p. 5.

[3] Frédéric Lefever: Kasimir Zgorecki, p. 7.

[5] Frédéric Lefever: Kasimir Zgorecki, p. 7.

[6] Matthias Kordes: Wohnen, Leben und Arbeiten von Fremden im Revier, p. 285.
[7] Frank Braßel: Die polnische Hauptstadt Westfalens, S. 24.
[8] Matthias Kordes: Wohnen, Leben und Arbeiten von Fremden im Revier, p. 285.

Mediathek Sorted

Media library
  • Fig. 1: Self-portrait, 1920s

    Kasimir Zgorecki: Self-portrait, photograph, 1920s
  • Fig. 2: Birth certificate, 1904

    Kasimir Zgorecki’s birth certificate, certificate, 1904
  • Fig. 3: Registration card, 1907

    The Zgorecki family’s registration card, document, 1907
  • Fig. 4: Herner address book, 1912

    The Zgorecki family’s address, address book, 1912
  • Fig. 5: Herne address book, 1914

    The Zgorecki family’s address, address book, 1914
  • Fig. 6: Bahnhofstraße in Herne, date unknown

    The town centre in Herne, photograph, author and date unknown
  • Fig. 7: Colour postcard of Bahnhofstraße in Herne, ca. 1912

    The town centre in Herne, postcard, author unknown, ca. 1912
  • Fig. 8: Sokół, date unknown

    Sokół presentation at a festival, photograph, date unknown
  • Fig. 9: “Kraft” advertisement, date unknown

    Advertisement for the “Kraft” photography studio, advert, date unknown
  • Fig. 10: Herne address book, 1912

    Addresses in Herne, address book, 1912
  • Fig. 11: Parade in Herne, date unknown

    Parade in the Polish quarter, photograph, author and date unknown
  • Fig. 12: Call against radical ‘Polishness’, 1920

    Call against radical ‘Polishness’, newspaper advert, 1920
  • Fig. 13: The Zgorecki family in France, 1920s

    Kasimir Zgorecki and his family, photograph, 1920s
  • Fig. 14: Portrait of a woman, 1920s

    Portrait of a young woman, photograph, 1920s
  • Fig. 15: Gymnastics club, 1930s

    Photograph of a gymnastics club, photograph, 1930s
  • Fig. 16: Family celebration, 1930s

    Photograph of family celebrations, photograph, 1930s
  • Fig. 17: Parade, 1930s

    Festivities in the streets of Northern France, photograph, 1930s
  • Fig. 18: Nativity scene, 1930s

    Photograph of a nativity scene, photograph, 1930s
  • Fig. 19: Grieving family, 1930

    Photograph of a grieving family, photograph, 1930
  • Fig. 20: Post-mortem photograph, 1930s

    Photograph of a deceased child, photograph, 1930s