Fotograf Magazine

Homage to Anna Fárová

Anna Farova is the first art historian in the Czech lands to specialize in the study of photography. Her older colleagues did not find the medium prestigious enough. Farova did not limit her focus to research, but became active also as curator, lecturer and critic. At the same time, she continued to draw inspiration from the fine arts, music, philosophy, theatre, literature and cinema. This broad erudition continued to fertilize her main field of specialization. The present retrospective therefore attempts to pay tribute to her achievements. Organized by the filmmaker and gallery owner Zuzana Meisnerova Wisner, together with the photographers Dusan Simanek and Iren Stehli, it naturally involves the participation of the guest of honor, who contributed widely from her collections. Thus it might appear that the floor has been given again – as has so often been the situation for Farova – to the exhibition pieces, or rather to the photographers on exhibit. This time, however, they came second to the catalogue itself, which merits the status of a lasting tool, surveying half a century of work in the history of art.

Anna Farova ‘s (b. 1928, Paris) broad outlook was facilitated by her French-Czech origin. Since childhood she has found her bearing in an environment infused with dual tradition. She is listed as Annette Safranek in her birth certificate. She inherited from her father, the musicologist Milos  Safranek, a love for art, as well as an ability to write about it and the will to cultivate international contacts. Her outstanding knowledge of her mother tongue was employed for her cultural mission already during her high school years, as she has been living in Prague since 1939. She arrived here via Pilsen, where her mother (née Anne Moussu) taught French, after a sojourn in France.

After receiving a degree in art history and aesthetics at the Charles University Faculty of Humanities (where she studied from 1946-1951), where photography was at best regarded as a means of reproduction, she remained free-lance. In the 1950s, she was stripped of her passport for six years, as a result of refusing to collaborate with the state security apparatus. However, she insisted on her natural right to visit her mother in France. Thanks to this, she eventually managed to sneak through the Iron Curtain even at a time of the post-war division of Europe and the political disfavor she found herself in personally.

Her early career developed from her friendships abroad: she would always approach photographers on the basis of personal friendship, which however would not have developed without an active interest in their work. In 1965 her articles on photography began to appear in magazines, and soon also in books.

At first she was engaged with immediate, humanist photography. She endeavored to publish the first book on Henri Cartier-Bresson, which came out in Prague in 1958. In the publishing house that became famous under the later name Odeon, she thus in fact started the very first edition of photographic monographs in the world (it was this edition, by the way, that inspired the Photo Poche edition of Robert Delpire). Consequently she became an editor of the Paragraphic Books series for New York’s Grossman Publishers: Werner Bischof, Andre Kertesz, Robert Capa followed. Publications featuring her essays also came out in Czech. Among her groundbreaking works on Czech photographers were Jiff Jenidek (1962), Eugen Wiakovsky (1964), Souoasna fotografie v Ceskoslovensku (Contemporary Photography in Czechoslovakia, 1972), Jindiich Styrsky, fotograficke dila (Jind’ich Styrsky, Photographic Oeuvre, 1982, published under her mother’s maiden name).

Since the 1960s she has mediated the importation of exhibitions by world-renown artists. To name just a few, there was the profile of Magnum Photos members (at the Municipal House, Prague, 1965), or the representative retrospectives of individual artists such as Werner Bischof (1964), Andre Kertesz, Elliott Erwitt (both in 1967), Robert Doisneau (1969), as well as others. Exhibitions of the above-mentioned artists were held in the Jaromir Funke Photo Studio (Fotografick9 kabinet Jaromfra Funka). Her friend Adolf Kroupa, in his capacity as managing director of the Brno House of Art, proved more than half way receptive towards her, being open to events that Farova could find no backing for in Prague. (The monograph on Elliott Erwitt, which she prepared for Odeon in the early 1970s, for instance never came out.)

In the years 1970-1977 Anna Farova worked as a researcher at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, and at the same time lectured to students of the Department of Still Photography at FAMU in the period 1970-1976. Due to her work Vliv fotografie na malffistvf. Frantia”ek Drtikol


(The Influence of Photography on Painting. Frantigek Drtikol) she was conferred the degree of historian in 1974.

Anna Farova’s activities were of the pioneering or founding variety. She showed, for instance, that a photographer could possess a style based on the integrity of his personality. She had direct influence on about a hundred students, while countless other photographers, male and female, were influenced by her writings. Diploma works and even essays published in print never ceased to reference her articles and books even at a time when she herself was banned from publishing.

Anna Farova’s official status was revoked after a ban from the ministry following her becoming a signatory of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto. Despite this, she by no means resigned her profession. Many figures from the circle of her students and their contemporaries had their exhibitions selected and introduced by her in the lobby of the Prague theatre Cinoherni klub, the peak of these activities being the 9 & 9 exhibition held in the Plasy Monastery (1981).

A retrospective entitled 37 fotograf6 na Chmelnici (37 Photograp­hers at the Chmelnice Club, 1989) culminated a series of exhibitions with a numerical code in their title. It defined the possibilities of the medium, interlinking artists whose work exemplified both spontaneous and art-conscious ways of photographing. Already the first of the numerically titled undertakings, 7 + 7 (1967), was a comparison of diverse approaches to creative work: Farova installed impromptu photographs in the downstairs of the Vaclav Spala Gallery, and static photographs upstairs. She would thereafter repeatedly return to staged photography, eventually presenting a group exhibition at the National Gallery venue at the Kinsk9 Palace in 1996 (Soudoba fotografie NOX – NOX – Contemporary Photography).

As a curator of countless exhibitions, in the course of their installation she worked for decades together with architects, set designers, and visual artists – including her husband Libor Fara (1925-1988), also the father of sculptor Isabela and photographer Gabina. Anna Farova’s talent for creating a home for photographs distinctly manifested itself in her futile effort to create a photography museum.

After the political climate in the country changed, Anna Farova returned to the Museum of Decorative Arts as external curator. In 1990 she prepared a retrospective of the exiled artist Josef Koudelka.

The most comprehensive monograph of Josef Sudek (1995) ever published was made possible by the trust that Farova inspired in the artist after he saw her work on Drtikol’s oeuvre. Anna Farova wrote: “Work on Sudek’s estate became to me L..] a very valid reason for remaining in Bohemia.”

Anna Farova continues to outline concepts of exhibitions and catalo­gues – among them, Oeskoslovenska fotografie v exilu 1939-1989 [Cze­choslovak Photography in Exile, 1992), Bohdan Holomfoek: Havel [2000), Post pro Radost [Post for Radost, 2001), Pavel Dias: Hlubiny pameti [Depths of Memory, 2002). She participated on preparing the retro­spective exhibitions of the painters Libor Fara (1999) and MikulaS Medek (2002). The books she has worked on recently also present an illustrious collection of names and themes: Frantigek Drtikol Photographer, Painter, Mystic (1998), Frantieek Drtikol Diaries and Letters 1914 – 1918 Dedicated to Eligka Janskg (2001), Jindr’ich Pfibik Rekapitulace [Recapitulation, 2001), Frantieek Drtikol: Eyes Wide Open (2002), Zdenek Tmej (2001), Josef Koudelka (2002), Josef Sudek [2003), Eva Davidove (2004), Libor Fara/Dilo [Oeuvre, 2006), Dugan gimanek (2006), Frantieek Drtikol: Workbook of Photographs (2006), Iren Stehli (2006), Jaromir Funke: Louny (2006).

The publication Anna Farova & Photography includes an exhaustive bibliography compiled by Polana Bregantova, and a very readable introductory essay by Josef Chuchma.


Meisnerova Wismer Z. (ed.) Anna Farova & fotografie/Photography. Prague: Langhans Galerie Praha – PRO Langhans 2006, 172 pages. ISBN 80-902816-0-5 (catalogue for eponymous exhibition at Langhans Gallery, Prague, 7 11. 2006-1. 1. 2007)

Josef Moucha