|Miloslav Stibor, 15 Photographs for Henry Miller, 1968
Opava, Kabinet fotografie Domu umění, Pekařská 12, May 2 – June 11, 2006. Curator: Vladimír Birgus. Catalogue published by the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University in Opava, ISBN 80-7248-354-4.
The 1960s used to belong to the most flourishing periods of the Czech art. Following the hardest Stalinist totality of the 1948-53 years, during which the only officially supported artistic direction was the dogmatically perceived Socialist Realism, literary, artistic, film and photographic works of art began to appear timidly in the late 1950s within the scope of day-to-day poetry. The artists started continuing an interrupted tradition of avant-garde art, more and more often they sought for inspiration even in the current artistic trends and those, who were brave enough, showed their critical attitude to the governing regime. In the temporarily more liberal atmosphere of the 1960s violently disrupted by the military occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, a wide range of excellent films by Miloš Forman, Věra Chytilová or Jiří Menzel came into existence as well as literary works by Milan Kundera, Josef Škvorecký and Václav Havel, theatre performances by Alfred Radok, Otomar Krejča or Jan Grossman, paintings by Mikoláš Medek, Adriena Šimotová and Václav Boštík or photographs by Jan Sudek, Jan Saudek and Jan Svoboda.
|Miloslav Stibor, Strážnice, 1960
|Miloslav Stibor, Nude 35, 1966
At that time, called the melting period, Miloslav Stibor (born on 11th July 1927) started creating his first more mature works as well. His native Olomouc, where he finished his studies at the Business School and graduated from the Department of Arts of Palacký University, where he defended his dissertation in 1952 and where he has been in the position of the head of the Department of Art at the People’s Art School for twenty-seven years, was experiencing artistic boom in the 1960s that was in sharp contradiction with particularly severely imposed ideological interferences in the cultural area of the previous decade. At that time, there were several fresh minor theatres (Radiokabaret, Skumafka, Dex klub), where outstandingly talented people like Vladimír Ditrich, Richard Pogoda, Pavel Dostál and other young theatre performers and musicians were working. Within the framework of the Flora exhibition, two unique shows of the Czechoslovak sculpture were held. The head of the Department of Arts at the Philosophical Faculty of Palacký University was Václav Zykmund, an enthusiastic art theorist and historian, a painter and photographer, a former member of the Ra avant-garde group. The representatives of various abstract trends Slavoj Kovařík, Radoslav Kutra and Miroslav Šnajdr as well as František Bělohlávek, a more traditionally oriented graphic artist, and Ivan Theimer, a painter and sculptor responding to surrealist poetics and current figural trends, won recognition among the artists in Olomouc. Since 1958, a significant photography group DOFO had been creating in Olomouc, whose members Antonín Gribovský, Jaromír Kohoutek, Jaroslav Vávra, Jan Hajn, Rupert Kytka, Ivo Přeček and others (since 1962, Vilém Reichman, a photographer from Brno had been its member as well) at first wanted to interpret the reality of everyday life in an uncommon way and later some of them started experimenting with various special techniques, using composite photography, projection of grids or limited colour schemes in an effort of distinctive stylization of works of art in photography and graphics intersection area. It is significant that the group had its own theorists such as Slavoj Kovařík and Václav Zykmund.
Miloslav Stibor has never been among the members of the DOFO group (in 1963 he was even a co-founder of the Ohnisko (Focus) artistic group) but he made friends with many of the DOFO group members and in his early works we can find a number of parallels with their works. He has been interested in photography since his studies at the Department of Arts of Palacký University, where he had been working as an assistant lecturer in photography studies since the mid 1950s – five years before it was possible to start studying photography as an independent field of study at the FAMU (the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) and several tens of years before photography started being taught as a minor subject at some other departments of art of our universities. Stibor’s oldest experiments in photography include lyrical photographs of everyday life, imaginative views of ordinary objects, first nudes, portraits, extraordinary photographs of his own children as well as experiments using Sabatier effect and other special techniques. Nowadays, Stibor is renowned for his excellent taste in composition and precise technique of artistic photographs but among his works from the turn of the 1950s and 1960s we can find a number of original documentary photographs. Among others, there are photographs of village children in Dobšiná, the audience present at the Spartakiáda sports festival in Olomouc in their search for the best possible view of the scene from high pillars or a photograph of young boys on a lake with sun reflections. While these photographs belong to the optimistically tuned genre photography that was at that time created by for instance Václav Jírů, Erich Einhorn, Jan Beran, K. O. Hrubý or some other members of the DOFO group, two photographs, practically unknown nowadays, of drunken visitors of the folklore festival in Strážnice surprise by their crudity that in the Czech photography of that time (maybe with the exception of works by a solitaire Gustav Aulehla that has been rediscovered lately) was not very common. In these photographs, Stibor confronted, by means of imposing diagonal compositions, lying drunken men in the front, separated from the remaining world, with families in the background and thus created effective content as well as artistic contrasts. This is true particularly about the photograph where the family in the background is created by another drunken man with his head on the table, an elderly lady with a grim face and a girl with a big ribbon. How many different possibilities of interpretation such photograph provides!
Although Stibor had reached significant results in live photography, he was gradually, with a few minor exceptions, such as the series Za děvčaty do Paříže (Follow girls to Paris) – more and more focused on art works. A certain transitional area is represented for instance by the Uhelná and Aka photographs from 1963, in which the authentic scenes of playing children are made more special by means of rich shadows creating ghostly figures bordering reality and surreality. It is particularly true about the photograph of his lying son with a child’s scooter, taken from bird's-eye perspective, where black shadows of hanging washing copy the shapes of real white objects. It seems as if there was a penetration of constructivism and neo-realism, as if the interwar avant-garde was shaking hands with the post-war works within the scope of day-to-day poetry.
At that time, Miloslav Stibor often reduced the colour scheme in his photographs to sharp contrasts of black and white. He used this art stylization, changing significantly coloured reality into basic black and white lines and shapes of the black and white photography in a large series of works called Kámen (Stone), in impressively affecting details recording mysterious prehistoric dolmens and menhirs as well as fragments of ancient palaces but although in calligraphic-like situated silhouettes of industrial buildings or Slovak wooden houses, in a playful series of shapes of nets, balls, brushes and other objects of Marieanne z Grifu, (Marieanne of Grif) in bewitchingly sculptural and cold portraits of beautiful and distinguished ladies who were photographed from enface or in direct looks into the objective and emphasizing the symmetry and geometry of their faces, as well as in the series called Zimní motiv, (Winter motif) showing obscure shapes of shadows cast by the fences on uneven areas covered with snow and at first sight looking as a piece of graphic art rather than photography. However, he used this stylization best in his nudes to which he has devoted himself since the mid 1960s and by means of which he went down in the history of the Czech photography.
In the 1960s, the photographic nude experienced a boom, after a forced interruption in the early 1950s when, in that most dogmatic Stalinism period, it was considered to be bourgeois anachronism and it was not possible to exhibit it in public in Czechoslovakia of that time. Nearly eroticism-free nudes, in which the photographs of female bodies were combined with photographs of various structures or with grids in the op-art style, were very fashionable. Stibor created other photographs of nudes, where he stylized particularly by means of expressive details and sophisticated spot lighting. He was able to reach his technique craftsmanship and ability to create extremely good-quality results by means of simple cameras and early reflectors. Stibor’s older nudes create an impression of being as similarly static and rather cold as his portraits of that time. They are dominated by the curves of bodies of beautiful ladies, reduced by means of lighting and details into elementary shapes of black silhouettes or, on the contrary, white fragments of figures upon a black background very often emphasized by means of spot light of a torch during enlarging process.
An indisputable climax of Stibor’s works in the 1960s as well as of his whole work, is the series of 15 fotografií pro Henryho Millera (15 photographs for Henry Miller) of 1968-1969 years. The photographs of fragments of female bodies coming out of dark under dramatic lighting, are characteristic by their sensuality as well as certain roughness expressing for instance in nearly naturalistic images of pubic hair and roughened skin that had not appeared in the Czech photography before. They significantly distinguished from the overwhelming non-erotic line of the Czech nude continuing in lyrically admiring look of a female body, its reduction to geometric shapes or in the incorporation of photographic depiction of a female body into various formal experiments. Stibor’s photographs did not show ideal shapes of an ideal female any more, but a real, flesh and blood female full of provocative behaviour as well as passion. This fact was well described by Alena Nádvorníková in her article devoted to Miloslav Stibor, published in Olomouc in the anthology called Středisko (Center) in 1976: “The nudes have lost the smoothness of marble and harmonic calmness, the photographer has newly discovered the structure of human skin and internal dynamics of a human body”. Although the series 15 fotografií pro Henryho Millera was, after first passionate discussions, accepted as one of the most important works of the Czech photographic nude and has become the most published work by Stibor, its author left this radical style quite soon and started creating mostly lyrically oriented nudes freely inspired by ancient mythology.
Nowadays, Miloslav Stibor is a living classic of the Czech photography who lent his name to the Basic School of Art in Olomouc, who can be found in most books and exhibitions related to the history of the Czech photography and who has had more than 160 author exhibitions. Moreover, in his approaching eightieths he still teaches at the Institute of Creative Photography of the Silesian University in Opava, extends his photographic and art work, travels around the world, does not spoil any entertainment and is full of sustained enthusiasms and has enough energy to share it with others.