Fotograf Magazine

Marie Šechtlová – The Sixties

It is not common practice to place the artist’s portrait on the cover of
a photographic publication. The self-portrait of Czech photographer, Marie Šechtlová (1928–2008), in her striped summer dress, apparently inspired by the intersection of op-art and fashion at the time and with the requisite Praktisix in her hand, draws viewers to the cover of her monograph for the period 1960–1970, when it was still possible to believe that everyday life was poetry and that poetry could save the world …

After finishing secondary school in Tábor, Marie Šechtlová married Josef Šechtl, heir to the local photography shop Šechtl and Voseček: photography became her destiny. Even with her rural (outside Prague) seclusion, she became a candidate for membership in the Czechoslovak Creative Artists Union in 1961, when the most serious totalitarian repression had barely begun to fade. She left her work as a local photographer in the family shop and began to focus on photography as an independent profession. Reproductions of her photos in the style of “everyday poetry“ are scattered throughout society and photographic magazines of the period. She worked closely with poet, Jan Noha. She also held successful exhibits and devoted her time to colour photography in the latter part of the 1960s. Trips to the USSR, the USA, and France – so rare at the time – speak to the artist’s ability to promote herself. They also influenced her photographic style that fully met the requirements of the period for artistic photography in the sense of using photographic and photo-chemical media without description and naturalisms. In her poeticising snapshots we also see a distinct feel for the possibilities of moment photography. Often they involve images just as elegant as the artist herself. Perhaps her biggest success from that period was her collaboration on a book of photography of New York with photographers Eva Fuková and Miloň Novotný and the poet-immunologist, Miroslav Holub (Mladá fronta – 1966).

The image component of her reviewed monograph is divided into eleven chapters, documenting the wide thematic range of the photographer’s work. Genre-wise it concerns portrait and street moments (Children, Roma, Meetings, New York, Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Yerevan Circus, Paris) and artistic photography, stylistically representing the given period (Nudes, Shapes, Southern Bohemia, Colourful World). Antonín Dufek, the author of the book’s foreword, carefully selected the photographs. He pointed out the fact that we should also place Marie Šechtlová’s work in an international context. In this sense it is close to the legacy of Otto Steinert and the school of “subjective photography,“ of which Steinert is the main representative.

The book’s setting is painstaking not only in its high-quality print. The inclusion of reprints of period magazines take the reader back to the environment of the 1960s, which is also felt in the graphic design concept provided by Jakub Troják. The entire publication is bilingual (in both Czech and English) and the biography, the exhibit overviews, the publications and literature are all exemplary. Marie Šechtlová’s portraits and self-portraits, included as a documentary accompaniment, represent, for the most part, work that is equal to the publication’s main photographic section.

The book reflects a happy period for Marie Šechtlová. It ended in 1967 after she burnt her fingers by exposure to x-rays that had actually been applied for cosmetic purposes. And it came to a definite end in 1970 with the normalisation purges in Prague media offices and with the destruction of work contacts. The Šechtl family later devoted their work to applied photography. Her daughter, Marie Michaela, looks after the family legacy: also via her role as publisher of this monograph.


Marie Šechtlová: fotografie – photography 1960–1970. Published by Marie Michaela Šechtlová, place and year of publication not listed. Selection of photography – Antonín Dufek. Texts – Antonín Dufek, Jan Kříž, Josef Musil and Marie Šechtlová. Documentary section – Antonín Dufek, Jiří Hlinovský, and Marie Michaela Šechtlová. 183 pages, approx. 21 x 24 cm, set cloth binding. Printed copies – 1 300. Price not listed. ISBN 978-80-904323-0-7

Petr Klimpl