Posts Tagged ‘Czech photography

18
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘The Intimate World of Josef Sudek’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th June – 25th September 2016

 

A poetry of the everyday

Josef Sudek, a one-armed man lugging around a large format camera, is one of my top ten photographers of all time.

His photographs, sometimes surreal, always sensitive, have a profound sensibility that affect the soul. Melancholy and mysterious by turns, they investigate the inner life of objects which stand as metaphors for the inner life of the artist. A form of healing after his horrific injuries and the loss of his arm during the First World War, the photographs purportedly look outwards upon the world but are actually interior meditations on life, death and the nature of being. Light emerges from the darkness; understanding from tribulation; and Sudek, in Jungian terms, integrates his ego into his soul through the process of (photographic) individuation – whereby the personal and collective unconscious (his hurt and damage) are brought into consciousness (eg. by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche and, in Sudek’s life, was integral to his healing from the vicissitudes of war.

Using Pictorialism as the starting point for his exploration of the world, Sudek never abandons the creation of “atmosphere” in his photographs, even as the images become modernist, surrealist and offer a new way of seeing the world. Having myself photographed extensively at night, and from the interior of my flat, I can understand Sudek’s fascination with both locations: the quiet of night, the stillness, the clarity of vision and thought; the interior as exterior, the projection of interior thoughts onto an external surface reflected back into the camera lens. “Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.” Except the cloak of darkness is not impenetrable, as light cannot exist without darkness.

Pace, his photographs are breath / taking. They are exhalations of the spirit.

Sudek’s ability to transcend the literal, his ability to transform the objectal quality of photography ranks him as one of the top photographers of all time. He synthesises  a poetry of objects, a poetry of the everyday, and projects the folds of his mind onto the visual field (through “tears” of condensation on the window, through labyrinths of paper and glass, such as in Labyrinth on my table, 1967, below). As a form of self-actualisation – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming – Sudek’s photographs interrogate that chthonic darkness that lurks in the heart of everyone of us, our dark night of the soul. In that process of discovery (who am I, what kind of human being am I, how can I heal myself), he finds redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

If you would like to read more about the life and work of Josef Sudek, please read the excellent article by Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

.
Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“… [Sudek] referred to photography as meteorology to describe the significance of the atmosphere, and how a photographer must predict the right conditions for photographing and enlarging prints. His work became sharper with richer tones, and his compositions became more illusive. The foregrounds and backgrounds of his photographs, particularly in his “Window” series began to oscillate. These achievements were perhaps made more attainable by his focus on inanimate objects over which he had more control than living things. Most of his cityscapes became deserted, as he directed his camera at statues or replaced what would have been a living subject with such emulative sculptures.

In effect, Sudek’s substitution of the inanimate for the animate brought the objects he photographed to life in his mind. He called the enormous decaying trees in the woods of Bohemia “sleeping giants” and would take portraits of masks and statuary heads, transforming them into frozen, worn grotesqueries. His personification of objects is even more vivid in his studio photography, particularly after 1939, the oncoming of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Prague. As the city was oppressed by German troops, the artist retreated into his studio and insulated himself sentimentally with still lifes. To an interviewer, he explained, “I love the life of objects. When the children go to bed, the objects come to life. I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects.” He devoted endless hours to arranging and photographing the everyday – apples, eggs, bread, and shells – and special objects given to him by friends, such as feathers, spectacles, and watches, which he called “remembrances” of that person. A photograph from his series “Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician,” for example, portrays objects respectfully placed in a row on a desk, as if artifacts from an archeological site, from which the history of a life or character of a man could be divined.

“Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” Sudek said, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.” This statement is perhaps telling of Sudek’s relationship to death and life, as a result of the loss of his arm and the manner in which he suffered the loss. In the 1963 film, “Zit Svuj Zivot” (Living Your Life), a documentary portrait of Sudek by Evald Strom, we see a sensitive man describing his efforts to photograph the reality of the objects around him, not as if he were bringing the objects to life, but as if it was his purpose to represent the lives of objects as they truly are. Of the image of a vase of wildflowers, he says “This is a photograph of wildflowers, my attempt to photograph wildflowers,” and of an old lamp, “This is a celebrated lamp; it holds a lot of memories.””

Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

 

 

“I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects, to relate something mysterious: the seventh side of a dice,” mused Josef Sudek. “Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” he explained, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.”

 

 

 

 

“On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print. The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography.

The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography. Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence – feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

The first part of the exhibition features images that herald the photographer’s later work, showing his early landscapes, portraits of fellow patients at Invalidovna, the Prague hospice for war invalids like Sudek, his hesitant foray into modernism, and his interior shots of St. Vitus Cathedral. Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart. The exhibition “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek” provides a fascinating panorama of the work of this unique artist.”

Text from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Beginnings

Sudek’s first photographic prints – small and largely assembled in albums – were mainly views of the countryside taken along the Elbe River when he travelled from Prague to Kolín to visit his mother between 1916 and 1922.

Using processes such as gelatin silver and bromoil he showed a talent for printing his pictures in a style that favoured soft edges and broad swathes of tone. Here Sudek was not so much studying the effects of light as he was observing the conventions of Pictorialism, a photography movement that straddled the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, and was based on a strong Romantic ethos. Pictorialist photographers enhanced atmospheric effects with such processes as carbon and gum bichromate. Sudek began using the carbon process regularly and in a personally expressive manner in the late 1940s.

His Invalidovna and St. Vitus Cathedral series in Prague, begun in the first half of the 1920s, show him exploring interior spaces where light emphasizes both the profane and the sacred. The play of bands of sunlight and darkness is a central feature of the composition and, indeed, of the life of the photograph.

 

Josef Sudek. 'St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic' c. 1926

 

Josef Sudek
St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic
c. 1926
Silver gelatin print

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín' c. 1922–1926

 

Josef Sudek
Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín [Sunday afternoon at Kolín island]
c. 1922–1926
Gelatin silver print
28.4 × 28.7 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 2000
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Rue de Prague' 1924

 

Josef Sudek
Rue de Prague
1924
Gelatin silver print
8.3 × 8.2 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Portrait de mon ami Funke' 1924

 

Josef Sudek
Portrait de mon ami Funke [Portrait of my friend Funke]
1924
Gelatin silver print
28.5 × 22.6 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 1985
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“”Josef Sudek: The World at My Window” is the first exhibition in France since 1988 to cover Sudek’s entire career and spotlight the different phases of his work. Coming in the wake of several exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume devoted to Eastern European photographers of the early twentieth century, among them André Kertész and Francois Kollar, this one comprises some 130 vintage prints by the Czech artist. Bringing to bear a vision at once subjective and timeless, Sudek captures the ongoing changes in Prague’s natural world and landscapes.

His early profession as a bookbinder came to an abrupt halt when he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in Bohemia and sent to the Italian front. After the First World War he came back to Prague wounded; the loss of his right arm meant abandoning bookbinding, and he turned to photography. After revisiting the battlefield in Italy once more he returned, in despair, to Prague: “I found the place,” he recounted, “but my arm wasn’t there. Since then I’ve never gone anywhere. I didn’t find what I was looking for.”

A study grant enabled him to train at the state-run school of graphic arts in Prague, where he mixed with practitioners of Pictorialism, a photographic movement aiming at achieving colour and texture effects similar to those of painting. He started concentrating on architectural details, always waiting until the light was absolutely perfect. Little by little he gave up the Pictorialist ambiences of his views of St Vitus’s cathedral, opting for a pure, straightforward approach which the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz summed up as “maximum detail for maximum simplification”.

During the Second World War Sudek began photographing the window giving onto his garden, the result being the celebrated Window of My Studio series. He then shifted his focus to the accumulated jumble of objects in the studio, producing a further series titled Labyrinths. Light was an inexhaustible theme in his work, orchestrating the seasons, making the invisible visible and transporting us into another world. As if to escape the leaden context of the War and then of Communism, Sudek took refuge in music, especially that of his compatriot Leoš Janáček. A true music lover, he gradually built up a substantial collection of recordings which he played to his friends during improvised concerts in his studio.

The second half of his career saw Sudek abandon photography’s traditional subjects as he explored the outskirts of Prague with his black view camera on his shoulder. Known as “the poet of Prague”, he became an emblematic figure in the Czech capital. Discreet and solitary, he gradually withdrew from the city’s art scene, leaving his studio only to prowl the streets at night with his imagination as his guide.

Sudek’s photographs rarely include people; his focus was more on empty urban and rural spaces. Fascinated by the streets of Prague, the city’s deserted parks and public gardens, and the wooded Bohemian landscapes his mastery of light rendered sublime, he preferred the un-enlarged contact print as a means of preserving all the detail and authenticity of the places he roamed through.  His work moved towards experiments with light. In photographs shot through with simplicity and sensitivity, Sudek foregrounds a kind of poetry of the everyday, using the interplay of light and shade to achieve a kind of fluctuation between interior and exterior.”

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1948

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1948
Gelatin silver print
17 × 11.2 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek, 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1954

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1954
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 16.8 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1950

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1950
Gelatin silver print
28.1 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

The world from my window

Sudek was not content with making single, unrelated images. He generally worked in projects or series, creating extended visual explorations of the phenomena and scenes he viewed – often from the closed window of his studio, which separated his private studio-home from the exterior world. In the serie From My Window it was the endlessly varying states of transformation of droplets of water that he watched streaming down his windowpane. His images invite us to contemplate, with great fascination, the physical cycles of water and the phenomenon of rivulets coursing down a surface – like human tears. Reminding us even of [Paul] Verlaine’s “There is weeping in my heart like the rain upon the city…” Sometimes the melancholy mood of these images is leavened by a rose in a vase on the windowsill or tendrils of leaves announcing the arrival of spring.

 

There is weeping in my heart
like the rain falling on the town.
What is this languor
that pervades my heart?

Oh the patter of the rain
on the ground and the roofs!
For a heart growing weary
oh the song of the rain!

There is weeping without cause
in this disheartened heart.
What! No betrayal?
There’s no reason for this grief.

Truly the worst pain
is not knowing why,
without love or hatred,
my heart feels so much pain.

Paul Verlaine. “Il pleure dans mon coeur”

 

Josef Sudek. 'Quatre saisons: l’été' c. 1940-1954

 

Josef Sudek
Quatre saisons: l’été [Four seasons: summer]
c. 1940-1954
From the series “La Fenêtre de mon atelier” [The window of my studio]
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 17.1 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Dernière Rose' 1956

 

Josef Sudek
La Dernière Rose [The Last Rose]
1956
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 23.2 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession Josef Sudek

 

 

Night walks

Sudek’s preoccupation with darkness dates to the Nazi Occupation of Prague from March 1939 until the end of the war. Experiencing his city plunged into nights of enforced darkness Sudek explored the absence of light in his pictures. We know that this was more than a technical exercise, for he wrote “Memories” and “Restless Night” on the verso of one nocturnal photograph dated 1943.

The curfews imposed on citizens at the time made it unlikely that Sudek ventured out into the city after dark during wartime. Neither agile nor inconspicuous with his large-format camera slung over his increasingly hunched back, Sudek would have risked his life had he done so. The small courtyard of his studio on Ujezd street was hidden from the road, however, and one or two lights in neighbouring apartments served as beacons. Well after sundown he would photograph the syncopated play of blurs of light against the wall of impenetrable blackness.

 

The spirit of place

Sudek visited and photographed places that held either personal or spiritual significance for him: the landscape along the Elbe River, Invalidovna, St. Vitus Cathedral, his studio, Prague’s complex streets and open squares, the majestic Prague Castle, the city’s surrounds, and Frenštát pod Radhoštĕm where he spent summers with friends. Hukvaldy, home of Leoš Janaček, the composer whose music he loved, was a particularly favoured haunt. This was true also of the ancient Mionší Forest where he navigated his way through dense brush and forests by way of shortcuts that he created and playfully named. The Beskid Mountains also served as spiritual retreat. Although he was an urbanite in many respects, Sudek’s love of nature and sense of despair for its desecration is strongly expressed in Sad Landscapes, his series of images made in the Most region where industrialization ravaged the countryside in the 1950s.

 

The life of objects

Sudek collected everything. Today he would be known as a hoarder. But his obsession served him well, for out of the chaos of his small studio and living spaces he carefully selected a variety of these objects to photograph. From delicate feathers to crumpled paper and tinfoil, multi-faceted drinking glasses, flowers, fruit, seashells, envelopes, flasks, frames, prisms, candelabras, string and shoe moulds, the subjects ranged from the mundane to the exotic. Once chosen, the set-up was lovingly composed – often in subtly changed configurations with other objects – and carefully lit before being memorialized in either pigment or gelatin silver prints.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin Royal' c. 1940–1946

 

Josef Sudek
Le Jardin Royal [The Royal Garden]
c. 1940-1946
Procédé pigmentaire au papier charbon [Carbon pigment on paper]
16.1 × 11.7 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]' 1950

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
1950
Gelatin silver print
22.8 × 29 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12 × 16.7 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12.2 × 17.3 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin de Rothmayer' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Le Jardin de Rothmayer [The Rothmayer Garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
16.9 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“Entitled “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek”, this exhibition is the first of this scale to revisit the life and work of Josef Sudek (Kolín, 1896 – Prague, 1976) within its sociogeographical and historical context: Prague during the first half of the twentieth century, at a time when the Czech capital was a veritable hub of artistic activity. The exhibition features a selection of 130 works spanning the totality of Sudek’s career, from 1920 to 1976, and allows the public to examine the extent to which his photography was a reflection of his personal relationship to the surrounding world. On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print.

The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography. The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography.

Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence—feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart.”

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

New ways of seeing

Although more influenced by prevailing photographic conventions in the beginning, Sudek came to show an openness to experimenting with new ways of composing and printing his images. In the late 1920s, Sudek photographed objects designed by modernist Ladislav Sutnar, thus creating angled views of furniture with reflective surfaces and ceramics of pure form.

Sudek’s most successful foray into modernism is his experimentation with grotesque (surreal) subjects such as mannequins, decaying sculptures and the accoutrements of the architect Otto Rothmayer’s garden. There is little doubt that in the fragmented figurative sculptures Sudek was recalling some of the human devastation that he witnessed on the battlefields of the First World War.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Statue' c. 1948-1964

 

Josef Sudek
Statue
c. 1948-1964
Gelatin silver print
9 × 14 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dans le jardin' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Dans le jardin [In the garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
17 × 23.3 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe sur ma table' 1967

 

Josef Sudek
Labyrinthe sur ma table [Labyrinth on my table]
1967
Épreuve gélatino-argentique
39 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe de verre' c. 1968-1972

 

Josef Sudek
Labyrinthe de verre [Glass Maze]
vers 1968-1972
Gelatin silver print
39 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre)' 1951

 

Josef Sudek
Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre) [Untitled (Still life on the windowsill)]
1951
Montage par le photographe c. 1960.
Two silver gelatin prints, glass plate, lead
48.2 × 39.2 cm.
Musée des arts décoratifs, Prague.
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

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24
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 10th September – 28th November 2015

The exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum in association with Fundación MAPFRE.

Curator: Matthew Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator Department of Photography of the Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

Without reminding myself every so often, you actually forget just what a master of photography Josef Koudelka is.

Looking at the installation photographs below, without knowing the names of the individual images, is instructive. Notice how graphically strong his organisation of the picture plane is. Usually one or two, three at the most, strong vertical or horizontal elements – dark on dark, light on dark; man and hovercraft; figures on pavement; women, tree and building; assemblages of objects and light.

I believe all of his work links back to his sense of the theatre of memory, whether it be the landscapes and sceneries of the outdoors taken in Prague, and on trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy or the psychological interior of the mind of his theatre characters as he portrays them through photography. From the mystery and exoticism of the Gypsies series, to the recording of history, time and conflict of the Invasion photographs (witness the Hand and wristwatch). From the metaphysical symbols of isolation (lost animals, lonely figures, scattered objects and displaced Gypsies) in Exiles, which is the core of the Koudelka vital experience, to the destruction of ancient archaeological sites and depictions of places that have been mined, swept away or marked by the scars of industrialisation, devastated by wars and altered by time in his panoramic format photographs.

These theatres of the divine, theatres of the mind are ‘Theatres of Memory’ in which the 16th century Italian philosopher Guilio Camillo asks the question: How is the motion of the memory connected with the motion of history? How is the personal political?

Koudleka’s probing of this question is present in every one of his images. Through his inquiry “he maintains a total unity through the photographer’s vision.” The artist forms mental and physical images of the things he wants to remember, that he wants us to remember, using theatrical spaces… and his subjective thoughts bind us, closely, to collective memories.

“History… is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Fundación MAPFRE for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE presents the most complete retrospective exhibit up to this day dedicated to the Czech photographer of French nationality Josef Koudelka (n. 1938), member for the past forty years of Magnum Photos agency.

Engineer by profession, Koudelka became committed to the photographic medium in the middle of the sixties and became one of the most influential authors of his generation. Halfway between the artistic and documentary, Josef Koudelka is now a living legend. He has received prestigious awards in recognition of his work, among others, the Grand Prix National de la Photographie (1989), the Grand prix Cartier-Bresson (1991), and the International Award in Photography of the Hasselblad Foundation (1992).

This exhibition goes through his entire trajectory that covers more than five decades of work. The extense selection with more than 150 works reflects his first experimental projects produced at the end of the fifties and during the sixties, as well as his historic series Gypsies, Invasion and Exiles and reaching the great panoramic landscapes produced in the last years. In addition the exhibition includes important documental material, the majority unpublished -layouts, pamphlets, magazines of the period among others-, that allows us to delve into the work as well as the creative process of this author.

The title of the exhibition is Uncertain Nationality, which describes the sense of not belonging to a place, a sense of disorientation so present in his work since his exile from Czechoslovakia after the invasion of Prague, and his permanent interest in territories in conflict.”

Press release from Fundación MAPFRE

 

 

Entrance view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Entrance view of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation views of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Introduction

In the mid-1950s, when a new youth culture characterised by an open mindset was beginning to emerge in Czechoslovakia following the death of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and after two decades of brutal repression, Josef Koudelka (born in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and nationalised French) left his village in Moravia and moved to the capital, Prague. An aeronautical engineer by training, Koudelka became very actively involved in photography in the mid-1960s, contributing to the creative renaissance that took place in his native country.

Koudelka not only immortalised these years with his camera but also embodied them. He spent lengthy periods in gypsy encampments in Slovakia, he compulsively photographed actors during play rehearsals, and he mingled with demonstrators and soldiers in August 1968 in order to capture the invasion of Prague by the Soviet troops. When Koudelka went into exile shortly afterwardshe acquired the official status of “nationality doubtful”, becoming a stateless person as he was unable to produce documentation proving that he was born in Czechoslovakia. He refused to be intimidated by this situation, however, and continued to travel and take photographs, allowing gypsy communities and traditional and religious festivals to decide his destinations.

Koudelka settled in Paris in the 1980s and after the fall of Communism returned to Prague in 1990 where he now has a second home. Nonetheless, he continues to be a traveller, committed over the past twenty-five years to the creation of panoramic photographs that depict landscapes around the world which have been altered and often devastated by the hand of man.

This exhibition encompasses Josef Koudelka’s entire career, spanning more than five decades of work. The comprehensive selection of images on display includes his first experimental projects of the 1950s and 1960s and his historic series Gypsies, Invasion and Exiles, concluding with the great panoramic landscapes of recent years. In addition, visitors will see important documentary material, most of it previously unpublished and including layouts, leaflets and magazines of the period which contribute to a deeper understanding of this artist’s work and creative process.

 

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Early years + theatre

Early years and Experiments

Josef Koudelka was immersed in the ambiance of liberalization that occurred in Czechoslovakia after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 who had subjected the country to a brutal repression for two decades. Koudelka began to photograph professionally in 1958 and create a series of landscapes and sceneries of the outdoors taken in Prague, and on trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy. Right away, the camera accompanied him on all of his trips, which would herald his impulse to work as an independent photographer and nomad for more than forty years.

Koudelka dates his first serious photographic activity to 1958. Between that date and 1962 he produced a body of work which encompassed landscapes and outdoor views taken in Prague and during trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy. Travel and its associated discoveries were a permanent stimulus to his creativity as a photographer. During these early years Koudelka assiduously studied the possibilities of giving form to the photographic image before and after the actual shot was taken. Initially, he inclined to manipulation subsequent to exposure, such as cropping and the use of experimental techniques in the dark room.

The Theatre

In the 1960s Koudelka worked free-lance for the most important Czech theatrical companies, Divadloza Branou (Theatre behind the Door) and Divadlona Zábradlí (Theatre on the Balustrade). As such, he evolved a new way of photographing that involved the repetition and prior visualisation of the image. Working rapidly and close to the actors on the stage while they were rehearsing, Koudelka constantly moved around them until he had the desired image in his mind. The harsh, exaggerated theatrical lighting proved difficult to photograph, obliging him to force the development of his films with low exposures. Ultimately, a detail that interested him in an image might only occupy a small part of the negative and thus required significant blowing-up and laborious manipulation during the developing process in order to obtain a legible copy. Koudelka’s images of theatrical performances were used for promotional purposes and often appeared on the front cover and in the pages of the magazine Divadlo (Theatre).

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE Josef Koudelka website

 

Josef Koudelka. 'An Hour of Love by Josef Topol, Divadlo za branou [Theater behind the Door], Prague' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
An Hour of Lov
e by Josef Topol, Divadlo za branou [Theater behind the Door], Prague
1968
© Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Theatre on the Balustrade, King Ubu (by playwright Alfred Jarry), Prague' 1964

 

Josef Koudelka
Theatre on the Balustrade, King Ubu (by playwright Alfred Jarry), Prague
1964
© Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Alfred Jarry's Uburoi, Divadlo na zábradlí, Prague' 1964

 

Josef Koudelka
Alfred Jarry’s Uburoi, Divadlo na zábradlí, Prague
1964
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Czechoslovakia' 1960

 

Josef Koudelka
Czechoslovakia
1960
Gelatin silver, early print
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Gypsies

In 1961 Koudelka started to take photographs in villages and gypsy encampments. He initially continued with his habitual employment as an engineer but this photographic endeavour soon became a project that would define his artistic career and give rise to the series Gypsies. He returned again and again to around eighty different places in Slovakia and the Czech regions of Moravia and Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), principally between 1963 and 1970, taking thousands of photographs from which he selected various hundreds and finally a few dozen that he most preferred, entitling them with the name of the place where they were taken. The varied compositions – interiors, individual and group portraits, and landscapes – allow the subjects space to be themselves while maintaining a total unity through the photographer’s vision. These works also constitute views onto a world which seemed very exotic at that time, even for other Czechs and Slovaks, but which was nonetheless quite self-sufficient and as universally accessible as ancient myths.

The first exhibition of this series, held in the lobby of the Divadloza Branou (Theatre behind the Door) in Prague in March 1967, only included twenty-seven photographs. The twenty-two prints that have survived from that event are included in the present exhibition, mounted on their original panels and displayed as a group, as they were almost fifty years ago.

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Bohemia' 1966

 

Josef Koudelka
Bohemia
1966
Gelatin silver, print 1967
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Moravia (Strážnice)' 1966

 

Josef Koudelka
Moravia (Strážnice)
1966
Gelatin silver, print 1967
Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Slovakia' 1963

 

Josef Koudelka
Slovakia
1963
Gelatin silver, print 1967
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Romania' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
Romania
1968
Gelatin silver, print 1980s
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Robin and Sandy Stuart
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Slovakia' 1963

 

Josef Koudelka
Slovakia
1963
Gelatin silver, print 1967
The Art Institute of Chicago, Amanda TaubVeazie Endowment and Photography Gala Fund
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Invasion section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Invasion section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Invasion

In August 1968, shortly after returning to Czechoslovakia after a trip to Rumania where he had gone to photograph gypsy encampments, Koudelka woke up early one morning to discover that the Warsaw Pact forces led by the Soviet Union had invaded Prague. He immediately loaded his Exakta Varex camera with East German film and went out onto the street, tirelessly photograph the devastating occupation between 21 and 27 August. Koudelka climbed on tanks, encountered soldiers armed with machine guns (as did the demonstrators alongside him), and photographed the innumerable slogans and posters which appeared every day on the city’s walls and were then removed by the invading forces every evening. Koudelka penetrated into the heart of the resistance. A new era was dawning and his photographs became a powerful reminder of how that change first began.

His images became a document of the conflict and symbol of the spirit of the resistance movement. The rolls of film that he used to photograph the Prague struggle ended up in Western Europe illegally and the Koudelka images appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. Koudelka spent that winter editing his photographs, selecting just a handful from among thousands of images. Finally, the negatives were smuggled out to the United States and with the help of the Magnum Photos agency were distributed to magazines and newspapers around the world on the occasion of the first anniversary of the invasion in 1969. Prior to 1984, when they were publicly exhibited for the first time in London with Koudelka’s name attached to them, these images were published anonymously and only attributed to “P.P”, standing for “Prague Photographer”, in order to avoid possible reprisals against Koudelka and his family.

 

Josef Koudelka. '(Czech citizen on sidewalk, wearing jacket with target)' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
(Czech citizen on sidewalk, wearing jacket with target)
1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. '(Czech citizen on tank)' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
(Czech citizen on tank)
1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of a private collector
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Hand and wristwatch' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
Hand and wristwatch
1968
Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968
Gelatin silver, print 1990
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Vinohradská Avenue' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Vinohradská Avenue
1968
Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. '(Two Czech citizens with flag)' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
(Two Czech citizens with flag)
1968
Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Near the Radio Headquarters. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Exiles

In 1970 Koudelka left Czechoslovakia for Great Britain, where he lived until he moved to France in 1980, obtaining French citizenship in 1987. During his years of exile he worked tirelessly, travelling during the spring and summer in order to photograph traditional festivals and gypsy events in various countries in Western Europe, principally the UK, Ireland, Italy and Spain, then retiring to his darkroom in the winter. During this period of his life Koudelka made numerous friends on his travels and through his association with Magnum Photos. He remained totally independent, however, refusing to rent an apartment or accept commissions in order to retain control of his artistic output and to be in complete charge of his agenda. His enigmatic photographs of these years evoke his own feelings of isolation through images of animals running free, lone figures, abandoned objects and displaced gypsies, although his work presents these feelings of solitude and distance in very broad terms.

Josef Koudelka left Czechoslovakia in 1970 and petitioned to exile to the United Kingdom. While he was in exile, he continued to work throughout Europe on those routes marked by Gypsy religious festivals and folklore that are held annually. The alienation that he felt for not belonging to a nation is reflected in his Exiles work that shows symbols of isolation (lost animals, lonely figures, scattered objects and displaced Gypsies) which is the core of the Koudelka vital experience. Unclear nationality refers to the legal status that appears in the author’s travel documents each time he returned to the United Kingdom, his home base during the first decade of exile, since he did not have a Czechoslovakian passport and could not prove his birthplace.

The subjects in the series Exiles are not limited to a specific group or period, and while they are based on Koudelka’s own everyday experiences during his stateless period, they are more metaphysical than physical. Here autobiography and reportage maintain a relationship of productive tension.

 

Josef Koudelka. 'France' 1976

 

Josef Koudelka
Still Life (Newspaper), France
1976
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Parc de Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France' 1987

 

Josef Koudelka
Parc de Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France
1987
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Czechoslovakia' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
Czechoslovakia
1968
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Ireland' 1972

 

Josef Koudelka
Ireland
1972
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Panoramas

Since 1986 Koudelka has been taking photographs with panoramic cameras. His first project, commissioned by the Mission Photographique Transmanche, depicted the landscape of northern France affected by the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Since then he has used the broad panoramic format to depict places that have been mined, swept away or marked by the scars of industrialisation, devastated by wars and altered by time. The artist’s most recent panoramic photographs show important remains of past civilisations discovered on archaeological sites in twenty countries, particularly those bordering the Mediterranean.

Since 1986, Koudelka was using a panoramic camera. He uses this expanded format to show territories devastated by conflicts or altered with the passage of time. These images are the core of his impressive foldout publications such as Black Triangle or Chaos that shows scenery on the edge of ruins.

In 2007 Koudelka was invited along with eleven other photographers to take part in a project to explore the complex situation in Israel and Palestine. Despite his initial doubts, he accepted on the condition that he should be allowed to work as he wished and that he could focus on the wall in the West Bank and the area surrounding it on both sides. Having “grown up in Czechoslovakia, behind a wall”, Koudelka immediately pinpointed this barrier, with its physical, environmental and metaphorical connotations, as the subject that most interested him. This extensive system of concrete walls and barbed-wire fences allowed him to take full advantage of the broad panoramic format that he had been using since the 1980s, while the subject also gave him the opportunity to focus on the region’s landscape.

More recently, Josef Koudelka used this format to document the border of the West Bank and the territories that surround it such as the Negev desert or the Golan Heights. This work, Wall, urges the spectator to see the desolation of vast scenery dominated by walls, barbed-wire fences, access roads and borders. In the exhibition, there is a selection of copies from this work together with the book published in 2014. The panoramics are impressive objects that are between 1.2 and 1.8 m long. In these panoramics we perceive a scenery created by the man that tells his story, as well as the transformations that he has suffered due to human pillage, meaning: through his photographs we see man as creator and destroyer of the world.

Between 1991 and 2015, Josef Koudelka visited twenty countries bordering the Mediterranean, stopping at over two hundred Greek and Roman archaeological sites to create his series Archaeology. This was an unprecedented exploration which has not yet been completed – Koudelka keeps visiting archaeological sites in Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and other Mediterranean countries – searching not for the documents of the sites, but for the most perfect images of their existence.

 

Josef Koudelka. 'France (Nord Pas-de-Calais)' From the series 'Chaos', 1989

 

Josef Koudelka
France (Nord Pas-de-Calais)
From the series Chaos, 1989
Inkjet, print 2013
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Lebanon (Beirut)' From the series 'Chaos', 1991

 

Josef Koudelka
Lebanon (Beirut)
From the series Chaos, 1991
Gelatin silver, print 1999
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Jordan (Amman)' from the series 'Archaeology', 2012

 

Josef Koudelka
Jordan (Amman)
from the series Archaeology, 2012
Inkjet print, 2013
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Israel-Palestine (Al 'Eizariya [Bethany])' From the series 'Wall', 2010

 

Josef Koudelka
Israel-Palestine (Al ‘Eizariya [Bethany])
From the series Wall, 2010
Inkjet, print 2014
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

 

Fundación MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura
Paseo de Recoletos, 23
28004 Madrid, Spain
T: +34 915 81 61 00

Opening hours:
Sunday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm
Monday 2.00 – 8.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Fundación MAPFRE website

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23
May
10

Exhibition: ‘Miroslav Tichý’ at Michael Hoppen Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 28th April – 29th May 2010

 

A camera of Miroslav Tichy

 

A camera of Miroslav Tichý

 

 

Wow – these are fantastic!!
Tichy’s camera is such an amazing construction (click on the image above to see a larger version).

Many thankx to Jim Edwards and the Michael Hoppen Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

 

 

“Women are just a motif to me. The figure – standing, bending, or sitting. The movement, walking. Nothing else Interests me. The erotic is just a dream anyway. The world is only an illusion, our illusion.”

“Everything is decided by the earth, which is turning. You can only live as long as the earth keeps turning. That is predetermined.

.
Miroslav Tichý

 

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

 

“The recently unknown photographic work of Czech artist Miroslav Tichý has become a noteworthy presence in the worlds of photography and contemporary art over the last few years. Timeless and uncategorisable, Tichý’s work captures the women of Kijov, from the artist’s native city in Moravia. On 28 April 2010, the Michael Hoppen Gallery will bring together unique photographs, previously unseen in the UK, created in the 1960’s by Tichý with his makeshift cameras and enlargers.

Marginal and exceptionally voyeuristic, in his methods Tichý could be described as an “art brut photographer” yet he is marked by many classical influences. Though his images are produced with poor-quality equipment and carelessly shot, they offer an idiosyncratic and almost hallucinatory vision of a fantastical, eroticised reality. With his endless return to the same subject and the volume and regularity of his production, Tichý’s work draws many parallels to certain practices of conceptual art during the same period.

For thirty years Tichý took up to one hundred photographs each day, pursuing his artistic obsession with the female form. Dressed in rags and using a homemade camera, Tichy captured the universe of the people in the small town of Brno in the Czech Republic. This discovery of photography saved him from madness and the claustrophobia of political dictatorship. Though his work today is widely exhibited, Tichý worked for years as an unknown artist in complete isolation on the periphery of the art world.

A student at the Academy of Arts in Prague, Tichý left following the communist overthrow of 1948. Unwilling to subordinate to the political system he spent some eight years in prison and psychiatric wards for no reason, other than he was ‘different’ and considered subversive. Upon his release he became an outsider, occupying his time by obsessively taking photographs of the women of his home town, using homemade cameras constructed from tin cans, children’s spectacle lenses, rubber bands, scotch tape and other junk found on the streets.

He captured images of their ankles, faces and torsos whilst out strolling or sunbathing, shop-girls behind the counter, mothers pushing prams, and any others who caught his eye, sometimes finding himself in trouble with the police. These small objects of obsession, which might appear to the casual viewer to be simply voyeurism, are simultaneously melancholic and poetic.

Tichý’s work surfaced in July 2005, when he won the ‘New Discovery Award’ at Arles. Within a year he had already been featured in two solo museum exhibitions, at the Wintertaur in Zurich and the Rudolfinum, Prague, and his work has been purchased by the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London. Tichý has now exhibited in museums from Holland to Canada, Finland to Ireland and Tokyo. In 2009, a seminal show was held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris where it received rave reviews. Since then, Tichý’s work has recently been on show at ICP in New York where The New York Times reviewed his work as …’intensely fascinating.’ American artist Richard Prince wrote an essay for the catalogue. In his signature smart-aleck, red-blooded-male persona, Prince links Tichý to Bettie Page, Swanson’s TV dinners and the short stories of John Cheever.
 Tichý’s work will also appear at Tate Modern later this year as part of their ‘Voyerism, Surveillance and Camera’ exhibition in May 2010.

Press release from the Michael Hoppen Gallery website

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

 

Miroslav Tichý

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, November 20, 1926 – April 12, 2011) was a photographer who from the 1960s until 1985 took thousands of surreptitious pictures of women in his hometown of Kyjov in the Czech Republic, using homemade cameras constructed of cardboard tubes, tin cans and other at-hand materials. Most of his subjects were unaware that they were being photographed. A few struck beauty-pageant poses when they sighted Tichý, perhaps not realising that the parody of a camera he carried was real.

His soft focus, fleeting glimpses of the women of Kyjov are skewed, spotted and badly printed – flawed by the limitations of his primitive equipment and a series of deliberate processing mistakes meant to add poetic imperfections. Of his technical methods, Tichý has said, “First of all, you have to have a bad camera”, and, “If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.”

During the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Tichý was considered a dissident and was badly treated by the government. His photographs remained largely unknown until an exhibition was held for him in 2004. Tichý did not attend exhibitions, and lived a life of self-sufficiency and freedom from the standards of society. Tichý died on April 12, 2011 in Kyjov, Czech Republic. …

An essay in Artforum International describes Tichý as “practically reinventing photography from scratch”, rehabilitating the soft focus, manipulated pictorial photography of the late 1800s,

“…not as a distortion of the medium but as something like its essence. What counts for him is not only the image – just one moment in the photographic process – but also the chemical activity of the materials, which is never entirely stable or complete, and the delimitation of the results via cropping and framing.”

Director Radek Horacek of the Brno House of Art, which held an exhibition of Tichý’s photographs in 2006, describes them thus:

“They are all very careful observations of women from Kyjov and of everyday trivial activities. But soon you realise that these trivial situations such as someone sitting on a bench, women waiting for a bus, someone taking a T-shirt off at a swimming pool, are somehow extraordinary. Tichý managed to give this banality a feeling of exceptionality and rarity. Just part of a female body in his pictures can look very esoteric. There are so many magazines that offer much more nudity than Tichý but his photographs are different. A woman’s tights between a knee and a skirt or a swimming costume in his pictures look somehow mysterious.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Miroslav Tichy – “Tarzan Retired”

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011) 'Untitled' c. 1960s

 

Miroslav Tichý (Czech, 1926-2011)
Untitled
c. 1960s
Unique Silver gelatin print
Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery
© Miroslav Tichy

 

 

Michael Hoppen Gallery
3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 3TD
Phone: +44 (0)20 7352 3649

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday: 12.30 – 6pm
Saturday and Sunday: Closed

Michael Hoppen Gallery website

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14
Apr
09

Josef Sudek: Master of Photography

April 2009

 

Further to the last post I have collected some images from the Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896 – 1976), one of my favourite photographers. The images of this master photographer are a delight. Like the photographs of Eugene Atget they evince generosity in the understanding of light, space and humanity. Insightful writing on Josef Sudek by Charles Sawyer is included in the post.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Josef Sudek. 'A Summer Shower in the Magic Garden' 1954-59

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
A Summer Shower in the Magic Garden
1954 – 59
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations, so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings. And if the photographer has a bit of sense in his head maybe he is able to capture some of this – and I suppose that’s lyricism.”

“I believe a lot in instinct. One should never dull it by wanting to know everything. One shouldn’t ask too many questions but do what one does properly, never rush, and never torment oneself.”

“It would have bored me extremely to have restricted myself to one specific direction for my whole life, for example, landscape photography. A photographer should never impose such restrictions upon himself.”

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Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976) 'In the enchanted garden' 1954 - 59

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
In the enchanted garden
1954 – 59
From the series Remembrances
Gelatin silver print

 

Joseph Sudek. 'Untitled' 1967

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Untitled
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“The systematic approach, and the dogged aesthetic experimentation of Sudek are akin to the working habits of Cezanne. But these alone are insufficient to make great art or even good art. On the contrary, if these are all one sees in a work, then the cumulative burden of so much plain labor would be unbearable. Sudek’s devotion to work may have integrated his shattered life but it could not have offered him the spiritual redemption he was seeking; only his aesthetic quest could bring this. It is the struggle for spiritual redemption through his aesthetic quest that gives Sudek’s best photographs their true power. Two qualities characterise his best work: a rich diversity of light values in the low end of the tonal scale, and the representation of light as a substance occupying its own space. The former, the diversity of light values, requires very delicate treatment of the materials, especially the negative, but also the paper (Sudek used silver halide papers in the main). The latter, the portrayal of light as substance, is a more original trait than his tonal palette, which one sees in occasional prints of other photographers. Flaubert once expressed an ambition to write a book which would have no subject, “a book dependent on nothing external … held together by the strength of its style.” Photographers have sometimes expressed parallel aspirations to make light itself the subject of their photographs, leaving the banal, material world behind. Both ideals are, of course, unobtainable, but nonetheless they may be worth pursuing. (Artists, in their pursuit of the unobtainable, are not so likely to be called pathological as others, of us, though recent developments in the philosophy of science tend to view the scientist’s quest for truth as equally quixotic).

Sudek has come closer than any other photographer to catching this illusive goal. His devices for this effect are simple and highly poetic: the dust he raised in a frenzy when the light was just right, a gossamer curtain draped over a chair back, the mist from a garden sprinkler, even the ambient moisture in the atmosphere when the air is near dew point. The eye is usually accustomed to seeing not light but the surfaces it defines; when light is reflected from amorphous materials, however, perception of materiality shifts to light itself. Sudek looked for such materials everywhere. And then he usually balanced the ethereal luminescence with the contra-bass of his deep shadow tonalities. The effect is enchanting, and strongly conveys the human element which is the true content of his photographs. For, throughout all his photography, there is one dominant mood, one consistent viewpoint, and one overriding philosophy. The mood is melancholy and the point of view is romanticism. And overriding all this is a philosophic detachment, an attitude he shares with Spinoza. The attitude of detachment that characterises Sudek’s art accounts for both its strength and weakness: the strength which lies in the ideal of utter tranquility and the weakness which is found in the paucity of human intimacy. Some commentators find Sudek’s photos mysterious but I think this is a mistake: the air of mystery vanishes once we see in Sudek’s photography a person’s private salvation from despair.”

Charles Sawyer. “Josef Sudek” in Creative Camera April 1980, Number 190 [Online] Cited 14/04/2009.

 

A good collection of Josef Sudek photographs can be found on the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website. Go to the site and enter ‘Josef Sudek’ in the Collection Search box to the right and then click on the arrow.

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976) From the series 'Vanished Statues in Mionsi' 1969

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
From the series Vanished Statues in Mionsi
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Sudek. 'The Window of My Atelier' 1969

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
The Window of My Atelier
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Sudek. 'Still-life after Caravaggio, Variation No 2 (or a night-time Variation)' 1956

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Still-life after Caravaggio, Variation No 2 (or a night-time Variation)
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Sudek. 'Stille (Still Life According to Caravaggio)' 1956

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Still (Still Life According to Caravaggio)
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Sudek. 'Remembrance of Mr. Magician (the garden of architect Rothmayer)' 1959

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Remembrance of Mr. Magician (the garden of architect Rothmayer)
1959
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Otto Rothmayer (architect)

Otto Rothmayer was born during 1892 into a family of carpenters. He took up that trade, following in his father’s footsteps. Rothmayer studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague under Jože Plečník’s guidance, and the Slovenian architect would inspire Rothmayer throughout his entire life. In fact, the design of the Rothmayer Villa was greatly influenced by Plečník’s Villa Stadion in Ljubljana. Rothmayer’s skill at carpentry came in handy as he designed much furniture. He made furniture for the gurus of Czech Cubism, architects Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár. Furniture he designed that does not fall under the category of Cubism but is rather simple and practical can be found in his villa and garden, for instance. His white chairs forged from rough steel were a big hit.

Work at Prague Castle

Plečník would not only be Rothmayer’s mentor but also his colleague. Rothmayer started working as Plečník’s assistant architect at Prague Castle in 1921, when Tomáš G. Masaryk was president of a young, democratic Czechoslovakia. Rothmayer even built a spiral staircase at Prague Castle, using what was then a new material – faux marble. When Plečník left his Castle post after 1930, Rothmayer continued to draw plans for the Castle until his retirement in 1958.

Other projects and the academic world

Rothmayer’s résumé does not only include his tenure at Prague Castle. He took up other projects, too. For instance, he designed three family houses and a side altar for a church in the Vinohrady district of Prague. He also designed museum exhibitions. Rothmayer went into teaching as well. He held the post of Professor of Interior Design at Prague’s Academy of Applied Arts in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he left for political reasons. Rothmayer also was friends with photographer Josef Sudek, who took many snapshots at Otto’s Břevnov residence. Sudek’s photos set in the villa’s garden are particularly impressive. Otto Rothmayer died in 1966.

Tracy A. Burns. “The Rothmayer Villa: A gem of modern architecture,” on the Private Prague Guide website [Online] Cited 11/01/2019

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinths' 1969

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Labyrinths
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976) 'Labyrinth of Spring' 1968

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Labyrinth of Spring
1968
Gelatin silver print
22.5 × 28.7 cm (8 7/8 × 11 1/4 in)

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976) 'Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician' 1960

 

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician
1960
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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14
Apr
09

Exhibition: ‘Czech Photography of the 20th Century’ at the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn

Exhibition dates: 13th March – 26th July 2009

 

Looks like an interesting exhibition. I wish I had been able to see it. Wouldn’t it be such a grand job flying around the world, reviewing photography exhibitions and bringing you my thoughts. I can only wish…

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Jindřich Štreit. 'Arnoltice' 1985

 

Jindřich Štreit (Czech, b. 1946)
Arnoltice
1985
From the Village Life series
Gelatin silver print

 

Jindřich Štreit (born 5 September 1946 in Vsetín) is a Czech photographer and pedagogue known for his documentary photography. He concentrates on documenting the rural life and people of Czech villages. He is considered one of the most important exponents of Czech documentary photography.

 

 

“Czech photography produced and produces leading figures in all areas of photography – from classical documentary photojournalism to surrealism, realism or avant-garde works. From 13 March 2009 on, the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany is presenting over 400 photographic works, a historical mosaic of Czech photography from 1900 until the late 20th century that underlines the international reputation enjoyed by Czech photography today. That reputation is not only apparent in the outstanding contributions by such renowned artists as Josef Sudek, Karel Hájek, Václav Jírů, Vilém Reichmann, Jan Reich, Jindřich Štreit, Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rossler, Josef Koudelka and Jan Saudek, but also in works from a host of younger photographers. The exhibition does not only showcase famous names but also less well-known photographers, providing an overall impression of the variation and innovation in Czech photography.

From Surrealism and other avant-garde experimentation to realism and classic photo reportage, Czech photographers have long played a key role in all areas of photography and continue to do so to this day.

This exhibition is the first in Germany to present the history and development of Czech photography from 1900 to the turn of the millennium. Beginning with Art Nouveau-inspired pictorialism, the comprehensive survey traces the rise of avant-garde photography and the development of photo montage in the 1920s to the 1940s. It examines the influence of ideological pressure on photography during the Second World War, the Stalinist 1950s and the period of Communist ‘normalisation’ after the occupation in 1968 and introduces the visitor to the multifaceted range of contemporary trends.”

Text from the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany website [Online] Cited 10/04/2009 (no longer available online)

 

Frantisek Drtikol. 'Wave' 1925

 

František Drtikol (Czech, 1883-1961)
Wave
1925
Gelatin silver print

 

František Drtikol (1883-1961) 'Nude' 1927

 

František Drtikol (Czech, 1883-1961)
Nude
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

František Drtikol (3 March 1883, Příbram – 13 January 1961, Prague) was a Czech photographer of international renown. He is especially known for his characteristically epic photographs, often nudes and portraits.

From 1907 to 1910 he had his own studio, until 1935 he operated an important portrait photostudio in Prague on the fourth floor of one of Prague’s remarkable buildings, a Baroque corner house at 9 Vodičkova, now demolished. Jaroslav Rössler, an important avant-garde photographer, was one of his pupils. Drtikol made many portraits of very important people and nudes which show development from pictorialism and symbolism to modern composite pictures of the nude body with geometric decorations and thrown shadows, where it is possible to find a number of parallels with the avant-garde works of the period. These are reminiscent of Cubism, and at the same time his nudes suggest the kind of movement that was characteristic of the futurism aesthetic.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Eugen Wiskovsky. 'Lunar Landscape or Collars' 1929

 

Eugen Wiskovsky (Czech, 1888-1964)
Lunar Landscape or Collars
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The oeuvre of the leading Czech avant-garde photographer Eugen Wiskovsky (1888-1964) is not large in size or subject range, but it is noteworthy in its originality, depth of ideas, and mastery. Wiskovsky’s early New Objectivist works, from the late 1920s and early 1930s, sought artistic effect in apparently non-aesthetic objects: His inventive lighting and cropping allowed their elementary lines to stand out, to lose their worldly associations and take on potential metaphorical meanings. In his dynamic diagonal compositions, Wiskovsky was among the most radical practitioners of Czech Constructivism. His landscape work is similarly distinctive.

 

Jaroslav Rossler. 'Untitled' 1931

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Jaroslav Rössler (25 May 1902, Smilov – 5 January 1990, Prague) was a pioneer of Czech avant-garde photography and a member of the association of Czech avant-garde artists Devětsil (Butterbur).

Rössler was born to the Czech-German father, Eduard Rössler, and a Czech mother, Adela Nollova. From 1917 to 1920, Rössler studied in the atelier of the company owned by renowned Czech photographer František Drtikol. Subsequently, he worked with the company as a laboratory technician. As a 21 years old, he began collaboration with the art theorist Karel Teige, who assigned him to create typographic layout for magazines Pásmo, Disk, Stavba and ReD (Revue Devětsilu). While working on these tasks, Rössler deepened his knowledge of photographic methods. In his works he utilised and combined the techniques of photogram, photomontage, collage and drawing. The beginnings of his photographic work were influenced by Cubism and Futurism, but he also attempted to create the first abstract photographs. In 1923, he became a member of the avant-garde association Devětsil.

In 1925, he went on a six-month study visit to Paris. The same year he began working as a photographer in the Osvobozené divadlo in Prague. Before his second departure to Paris, he co-worked as a commercial photographer with the pictorial magazine Pestrý týden.

In 1927, Rössler moved to Paris together with his wife, Gertruda Fischerová (1894-1976). Initially, he focused on commercial photography. He collaborated with the experimental studio of Lucien Lorell, and worked on commissions for notable companies such as Michelin and Shell. However, later he found an interest in the “street life” of Paris, which influenced his future stay in the city. During a demonstration, he encountered the protesters and took photographs of the event. Shortly after that he was arrested, and after a six-month imprisonment he was expelled from the country, in 1935. The alleged reason for his expulsion was his German-sounding surname.

After his return from Paris, Rössler and his wife resided in Prague, Žižkov. He opened a small photographic atelier, but difficulties associated with the management of the studio caused a significant gap in his artistic work, lasting for almost two decades.

In the 1950s, he resumed his previous activities and again began experimenting with the camera and photographic techniques. He created so-called “prizmata” (prisms), photographs taken through a birefringent prism. Additionally, he experimented with solarisation and explored the possibilities of the Sabatier effect.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Eugen Wiskovsky. 'Disaster' 1939

 

Eugen Wiskovsky (Czech, 1888-1964)
Disaster
1939
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Sudek. 'The Last Rose' 1956

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
The Last Rose from the Rose series
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Josef Sudek (17 March 1896, Kolín, Bohemia – 15 September 1976, Prague) was a Czech photographer, best known for his photographs of Prague.

Sudek was originally a bookbinder. During the First World War he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1915 and served on the Italian Front until he was wounded in the right arm in 1916 which led to the limb being amputated at the shoulder. After the war he studied photography for two years in Prague under Jaromir Funke. His army disability pension gave him leeway to make art, and he worked during the 1920s in the romantic Pictorialist style. Always pushing at the boundaries, a local camera club expelled him for arguing about the need to move forwards from ‘painterly’ photography. Sudek then founded the progressive Czech Photographic Society in 1924. Despite only having one arm, he used large, bulky cameras with the aid of assistants.

Sudek’s photography is sometimes said to be modernist. But this is only true of a couple of years in the 1930s, during which he undertook commercial photography and thus worked “in the style of the times”. Primarily, his personal photography is neo-romantic.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Josef Sudek was a Czech photographer best known for his elegiac black-and-white images of Prague, interiors, still lifes, and the landscapes of Bohemian forests. Many of Sudek’s most memorable images were taken from the window of his small studio, documenting his humble courtyard during changing weather and light conditions. “Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” he explained, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.”

Text from the artnet website [Online] Cited 10/01/2019

 

Jan Saudek (Czechoslovakia, b. 1935) 'Life' 1966

 

Jan Saudek (Czech, b. 1935)
Life
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Josef Koudelka (Czech, b. 1938) 'France' 1987

 

Josef Koudelka (Czech, b. 1938)
France
1987
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany
Museumsmeile Bonn
Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 4, 53113 Bonn
Postfach 12 05 40, 53047 Bonn
Germany
Telephone: +49-(0)228-9171-0

Opening hours:
Tues – Wed 10 – 9pm
Thurs – Sun 10 – 7pm

Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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