Fotograf Magazine

Bringing to Light

Markéta Luskačová

The new monograph dedicated to the work of Markéta Luskačová (b. 1944) begins with her cycle Poutníci / Pilgrims (1964–1972), dedicated to the people who changed the artist’s life. As a young girl of nineteen, who had been told at school that attending church was wrong, she encountered a procession of pilgrims in Slovakia heading towards the ancient pilgrimage site at Levoča. At that time she did not even own a camera, but she instantly realized that what she was seeking could not be expressed in words, that the usual modes of description needed to be expanded through a visual aspect. The text of her diploma thesis, Poutě na východním Slovensku / Pilgrimages in East Slovakia was conceived as accompanying material to her photographs, which she regarded as the essential part of her work. In the autumn of 1967, this gave her a unique position among the graduate students of sociology at Charles University in Prague.

After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies, one of the major cultural hubs that was subsequently liquidated was the theatre where Luskačová was employed as an in-house photographer until 1970. The present monograph eschews these pictures, much to its benefit, for within the sum of fifty years of realist photography they would seem out of place, like Platonic echoes of a fictitious world. Still, in the spring of 1971 the Theatre at the Gate (Divadlo za branou) still managed to exhibit Pilgrims in its foyer. The theater’s director Otomar Krejča warned Markéta, asking her to consider what she stood to lose by presenting her debut exhibition at one of the focal points of the Prague Spring. Essentially, her photographs were a polemic engaged against the era of heavy persecution of religious believers.

In 1971 Luskačová married the Prague native and UK citizen Franz H. Wurm. A poet writing in German, Wurm intended to return to the city of his birth. But soon events took another turn entirely. The occupation of Prague depressed the poet, and he instead decided to settle in Zurich. It was from there that the trajectory of the pilgrim-photographer took off, particularly during her subsequent relocation to London.

While the well-selected monograph and afterword trace the years the artist spent in the UK via an extensive cross-section, reviewers tend to prefer generalizations. Originally I was going to title the present review The Anabasis of M. L., since among the stations of the artist’s own pilgrimage (suffice to see for example the three photographs from Africa) it closes with the revelry of Carnival near the artist’s birthplace in Prague. But the golden thread that connects all of these scenes is the artist’s ability to bring to light that which remains hidden. The metaphysics of humanity. The keen sense for this strikes the viewer with far greater intensity than the geography of the individual exposures.

Josef Moucha