Fotograf Magazine

Jaroslav Rössler Avant-Garde Photographer

As recently as fifteen years ago, the oeuvre of Jaroslav Rössler (1902–1990) was familiar only to a small circle of photography scholars. No monograph dedicated to Rössler existed, nor had there been a major retrospective in any museum of international importance. Things have changed radically since then. In the years 2001–2004, Rössler’s legacy – his work in photography and partly also his drawings and paintings were presented at a large traveling exhibition in Prague, Madrid, Brest, Salzburg and Frankfurt am Main, and the first small monograph brought out by Torst Publishers in 2011 was soon followed by the more comprehensive publication in both Czech and English by the Prague-based KANT Publishers (entitled Jaroslav Rössler. Fotografie, koláže a kresby) and MIT Press (Jaroslav Rössler Czech Avant-Garde Photographer) in 2004. A great contribution to further research and the ongoing popularization of Rössler’s work was above all undertaken by Josef Moucha, who organized several exhibitions focused mainly on Rössler’s abstract photographs, published an the extensive catalogue Jaroslav Rössler. Abstraktní fotografie / Abstract Photography 1923–1978 in 2005 as well as writing several other texts dedicated to the artist.

Many exhibitions and catalogues would never have materialized without the initiative and the organizational as well as financial support of Rössler’s family, and in particular his astute son-in-law Jaroslav Vít. This is also absolutely true of the exhibition Jaroslav Rössler: fotografie, malby a kresby z let 1923–1978 / Photographs, Paintings and Drawings 1923–1978, held at the Topič Salon in Prague in spring 2014, and curated by Josef Moucha, Petr Štěpán and Ilona Víchová. Apart from the now-famous works dating to the interwar period, lesser known but already published experimental photographs dating from the 1950s – 1970s, and paintings and drawings of varying quality presented at previous exhibitions, the Topič Salon also hosted a number of photographs that had hitherto existed only in negatives or contact copies in the artist’s estate. It is these images that also constitute the most revelatory part of Moucha’s book. They include not only variations on abstract images of out-of-focus sources of light, aesthetic details of technical objects, or geometric compositions with cardboard shapes projecting shadows, but also previously unpublished works created from the mid–1950s onwards. As Moucha points out, many of these are consonant with the tendencies of l‘art informel, where artists a full generation younger than Rössler rejected the official doctrine of figurative art in the style of Socialist Realism and instead sought to follow the line introduced by the interwar avant-garde. Among its merits is his erudite and yet highly readable text, in which the author benefits from his experience also as a writer of fiction, a high quality approach to printing, a good English translation and exemplary precision in compiling the index of exhibitions, monographs, portfolios and presence in collections. In spite of its modest scope, Moucha’s book can thus be regarded as a revelatory, informative and essential contribution to the research and publishing of the oeuvre of one of the most eminent Czech photographers.

Vladimír Birgus