Fotograf Magazine

Jaromír Funke

Between Construction and Emotion

The publication accompanying the exquisite eponymous exhibition at the Moravian Gallery in Brno (held between October 18, 2013–January 19, 2014) is divided into two parts. In part one Antonín Dufek outlines Jaromír Funke both as a personality and photographer in an essay titled “Professor of the Avantgarde,” section 2 presents an extensive anthology of Funke’s own writing introduced by Dufek’s editorial note. Thus within an interval of seventeen years readers are offered another book on Funke authored by Antonín Dufek, rounding off Dufek’s 1996 exhibition catalogue which also featured an anthology of Funke’s writing, though less extensive. The 1996 project, however, was conceived as a preliminary result of research that would eventually yield a definitive analysis – the outcome of which is offered in the present book.

The book can be seen as the crowning of Dufek’s lifelong professional interest, since apart from the cited 1996 exhibition catalogue Dufek also wrote on Funke for the Fototorst Edition (2004). A number of facts cited by Dufek in his previous publications appear in the present book, while much is revised or amended. Like a pointer, Dufek tracks literally step by step the life and artistic career of a photographer who in the Czech context became so formative an influence not only in terms of the history of the medium, but also on terms of the discourse of photography. At the very beginning of his artistic career, and the beginning of the book, Funke’s character seems less than clearly defined: Funke’s early interests included literature, theater, concerts, modern art and medicine, but he was eventually compelled to study law. At that point, the versatile young man had not yet hatched into a photographer. When and how Funke actually became a photographer is too subtle a problem. Dufek gets to the bottom of the issue by an almost forensic analysis of Funke’s traces in his native town of Kolín. He pays close attention to Funke’s adolescence and youth in Kolín, discovering the significant friendship with painter Zdenek Rykr, a young and talented autodidact who would go on to study the history of art and classical archaeology at the Charles University in Prague. Dufek examines Funke’s first attempts at photography – snapshots of friends or summer-time swimming in the Labe River, noting that unlike other photographers, for example Josef Sudek, who as a rule destroyed their early prints which still strove for artistic recognition by employing a range of pictorial effects, Funke’s bromoil and carbon prints dating chiefly to 1922 have survived. Perhaps it was in that year, when the young photographer first offered a photograph of his for publication, that he might have made the decision to pursue the new medium full time. The close connection of his 1922 prints to painting is also attested to by a graphically embellished signature in one of the prints (p. 63). Dufek illustrates the significance of D. J. Růžička’s photographs for modern Czech photography. Růžička’s “soft” pictorialism and at the same time a certain matter-of-factness of the photographed objects were a true revelation for Czech photographers. Růžička became the synonym of modern photography, in spite

of the fact that he did not represent truly “new” photography. Funke labeled him as a “pure impressionist if there ever was one,” but at the same time he valued “the plasticity of his lighting effects.” Dufek accentuates the journalistic nature of Funke’s early photography, acknowledged by the photographer himself. Funke saw journalism as a part of “directing,” which he understood as follows: “We direct objects” (p. 20). Here I believe lies Dufek’s new contribution, in emphasizing Funke’s interest in cinema and directing (p. 22) in relation to his concept of photography.

It is interesting that the discourse of the “national” character of photography filtered even into Funke’s thought, as is showcased in an article by Funke that Dufek includes in the anthology, titled Lessons of International Exhibitions, published in Foto 1927. Funke considers the national traits in photography, pointing out that Anglo-American, Japanese, or French and European photography display a distinct national character. Even German photography and painting are specific, since Germans “have never adapted to anyone.” Czech photography, according to Funke, must be both national and international at the same time. It must be original. “We are surrounded by exquisite sceneries, they only need to be photographed to exude the Czech national character. We have national costume, and one may just look up to the Japanese in their exclusiveness, so that we become the exclusive masters of the exquisite print originating in Slovakia.”

In this sense Funke indirectly cites the theses of Vincenc Kramář and the conclusion of his 1921 book titled Cubism (Kubismus), claiming that “national art” should not be conceived of as a “purely the product of the domestic soil,” for it must be “international and universal.”1 Funke in fact features the Kramář book in one of his still life photographs. According to Kramář’ s notions, one could regard Cubism conceived trans-nationally as a peculiar sort of “national art.” Funke seeks a similar type of trans-nationalism, but even so he does not eschew exoticism as a typically Czech feature (landscape, national costume), yet paradoxically located in Slovakia. Funke himself was to fall prey to a peculiar orientalist exoticism as he set out to Ruthenia (1937-1938), where he nonetheless created photographs that are unquestionably on par with international work of supreme quality.

Dufek also pays deserved attention to Funke’s still life photographs from the years 1922–1924, highlighting the importance of Man Ray for Funke, as well as the role of “shadow-play” in abstract photography. If some of Funke’s photographs from the late 1920s can be labeled as abstract, one may certainly wonder whether some of the remarkable still life images featuring Rykr’s Cubist bust, bottles and various surfaces dating to the years 1924–1925 could not be regarded as Funke’s photographic reflection of Cubism (see fig. on pp. 96–101). If there indeed exists Cubism in photography and if we should not include in it the Vortographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn, Funke

remains – perhaps alongside with Jaroslav Rössler – the only photographer who intentionally strove to test the new medium against Cubism. Dufek suggests this by observing that the shadows projected in these photographs evoke Cubist paintings, coming strikingly close (p. 29). By photographing Maurice Raynal’s book Picasso, published by Munich’s Delphin Verlag Publishers in 1921, Funke is in fact also making a symbolic reference to Cubism in one of his still life images. Another still life features a monograph of Georges Braque. These “Cubist” books and references may have been “smuggled” into Funke’s photographs by the erudite Rykr, well informed regarding the newest trends in art. If these photographs are indeed manifestos (p. 28), then they manifest the artist’s ability to rise to the challenge of Cubism through photography.

One is also perfectly justified in considering a Poetist reflection in a section of Funke’s work. A key term for understanding Funke is “emotional photography,” a term he uses to absorb the essence of Surrealism, to emphasize the enigma and mystery present in reality, regardless of framing. Funke stresses the methodical selection of a real-life motif, combining two elements which trigger off a new association or catharsis – bringing to mind Lautréamont’s notorious sentence about the chance encounter of a sewing machine with an umbrella on an autopsy table, which was to become the mantra of Surrealism. Dufek goes into particular detail when discussing Dufke’s stint at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava, using the research of the late Iva Mojžišová. Particularly valuable are Funke’s records of the system of instruction in Bratislava. Dufek concludes his essay with Funke’s outlining his notions of time-lapse photography (and cinema) in specific locations and regions of the country, an ambition which remains unfulfilled even in the digital era. Funke defined this type of photography as documentary, or regional photography.

Antonín Dufek compiled a concise and focused synthesis, sufficiently comprehensive to include the various facets of Funke’s creativity, the versatility and variety of which he then compares with the similarly protean art of Funke’s friend from Kolín, Zdenek Rykr. The book testifies not only to a long-standing research and passion, but also to great experience and perspective. Dufek can thus highlight certain aspects which might otherwise be lost (Funke and Kolín, Funke and cinema). He discusses the essential terms that Funke used, though as Dufek illustrates, he applied them sometimes with a degree of openness – they include photogeny, emotional photography, photographer-director, etc. The fine selection of essays in the anthology makes the book a most valuable source of information not only on photographic practice, but also on early thought on the medium of photography, an area where research still mostly falls short, and which is doubly important in the case of Funke.

Funke is thus honored in a most informative and erudite publication, with an added bonus of fine graphic design by Filip Skalák. It may become the basis for future more detailed or specialized inquiries into Funke’s work, though it is hard to imagine what else such an effort might unearth, given Dufek’s thoroughness in scrutinizing Funke’s archive, with the assistance of the artist’s daughter, PhDr. Miloslava Rupešová. The book will doubtless become an essential companion to the history of modern Czech photography. Dufek compares – justly in my view – Funke’s importance for photography to František Kupka’s role in Czech painting; in this sense his book forms a solid platform of the historiography of Czech modern photography, helping to paint the full picture alongside other seminal works of scholarship dedicated to Czech modern and avant-garde photography.

 

Antonín Dufek, Jaromír Funke. Between Construction and Emotion / Mezi konstrukcí a emocí. Moravian Gallery in Brno and Kant Publishers, 2013, 274 pages.

Vojtěch Lahoda