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  Tiráž vydává Institut tvůrčí fotografie Slezské univerzity v Opavě, vychází od 23. 06. 2002, ISSN 1214-2913
Redakce Vladimír Birgus, Ondřej Durczak, Josef Moucha phpRS.

A century of decisive moments – Sprawling exhibition runs the gamut of Czech photography
Stanislav Friedlaender, Selfportrait
with Father, 1987
It may have been greats like Drtikol, Sudek and Koudelka who created Czech photography’s international reputation of strong individualism. But it was also the lesser-known and even forgotten photographers who helped to keep the medium alive during the country’s troubled times. Such is the theme of the most comprehensive review of 20th-century Czech photography to date. Curators Vladimír Birgus and Jan Mlčoch gathered the work of 423 artists in more than 1,200 pieces that tell not only the history of Czech photography, but also the recent history of the country and trends in the medium itself.

Spread over three venues, the work is presented chronologically and grouped by genre. The exhibition in the Museum of Decorative Arts (UPM) covers early movements such as Pictorialism and abstraction. While the oldest works are in muddy sepia, the tonal ranges widen as the technology improves. The birth of reportage comes with the first hand-held cameras, as exemplified in Bohumil Střemcha’s amusing “Prague Characters” series. But the star of this era is František Drtikol, a pioneer of nude photography who used shape and shadow in a singular way.

Josef Sudek, Last Roses, 1956
The show’s second section, at the House at the Stone Bell, covers work from the mid-1920s through the end of World War II. The Czech “New Photography” movement was championed by Eugen Wiškovský, who shot close-ups of everyday objects, revealing their deeper symbolism. Another adherent was Jaroslav Rössler, one of the first photographers anywhere to make light the center of attention. Jaromír Funke rode out the geometry of Constructivism into Surrealism, a school that enjoyed many Czech adherents: Don’t miss the humorous and disturbing sex-and-death collages by Jindřich Štyrský and Marie Stachová.

Then the Germans invaded, and this is where the show really gets interesting. There are shots of desperate faces as troops enter Prague, but even more extraordinary is Zdeněk Tmej’s record of the two years he spent at a German work camp. Cameras record the public execution of Prague’s deputy mayor and the chaos of the war’s end, when Praguers took revenge by forcing German women to pave the streets with cobblestones.

If you have time to see only one part of the show, the third section, at the Municipal Library, is the one. Covering the period from the communist coup through the present, this has the greatest breadth and depth of work.

Between 1948 and 1956, the only photography that could be published had to be done in the Socialist Realist style. Portraits of comically enthusiastic workers, usually omitted from exhibitions today, appear here. Photojournalism became insipid, with several photographers selling out to the regime, though documentary work by independents flourished underground. Josef Koudelka’s extraordinary compositions are among the show’s most stunning work. He manages to be in precisely the right place at the right time, every time: nearly on top of invading Soviet tanks, at a Roma funeral, at the moment a sad boy in an angel costume rides past on a bicycle.

Some photographers were targeted for intimidation, such as Jindřich Štreit, who made humanistic photos of small gestures of kindness in a devastated landscape. Like other photographers of the time, Štreit ignored trends of pessimism and realism that were popular in American photography, preferring art that transcended suffering.

Of course the show includes moving documents of the events surrounding the Velvet Revolution of 1989. These are followed by Antonín Kratochvíl’s records of Eastern European cultures in transition. Photojournalism remains weak, however, with the exception of Jan Šibík’s work.

Contempoary curating becomes more challenging: Who will stand the test of time? For the most part, the curators have chosen not pure photographers, but those who use photography as part of their installation works, such as František Skála, Krištof Kintera and Jiří Černický. They also include a few examples of computer-manipulated imagery, such as Štěpánka Šimlová’s highly saturated color montages and Veronika Bromová’s disturbing collages, in which sections of skin are torn away from a woman’s body to reveal the anatomy underneath.

Throughout the show, well-written and translated explanatory essays provide context. But since they are long and the show is massive, it makes sense to buy the affordable accompanying catalogue and read the same information in detail later.

This exhibition is not only about the history of Czech photography, but about how history itself has shaped the images. The show’s wealth of photographs demonstrates that most of the artists survived adversity and prevailed, even as others caved in. Perhaps it is because they forged their individualism by pushing against forced conformity. Or perhaps the small and insular community of teachers and students served to pass on the torch. Either way, whatever drove them remains inspiriting to this day, making this exhaustive and exhausting show well worth the effort of seeing in its entirety.

Kristin Barendsen

Published Prague Post, September 14, 2006

| Autor: Kristin Barendsen | Vydáno dne 21. 09. 2005 | 5048 přečtení |

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