Fotograf Magazine

Time according to Jiří Hanke

It has become an unwritten rule that artists around age sixty begin to look back and assess their whole body of work. Most often this look back culminates in the form of a retrospective (monograph). For Jiří Hanke time is a patient friend and even in this case the author was in no hurry. An offer for a book version of his life’s work came from the Milan Job Publishing House. The latter handled all technical matters including the graphic layout as put together by Denisa Jobová. Jiří Hanke had made conceptual preparations himself for his previous six publications. But now he handed over the job of editor to critic and photographer, Josef Moucha, a man who had been following Jiří’s work since the 1970s.

The new monograph does not step out of line from the existing style of Hanke’s publications. Its discreet and respectable cover leaves the viewer sufficiently large space for observing the sixteen series of photographs. Josef Moucha describes the individual collections in detail and characterises them in the book’s foreword. He did not try to overpower the flowing timeline of Hanke’s photos and their story-telling with his own, more authoritative concept. The sequencing of the photos in the book is, for the most part, chronological according to the date when work on the given project commenced. The logic is thus very simple, yet functional. Despite the fact that this is a catalogued publication of Hanke’s works, the open dating of certain works indicates their continuation. The monograph is thus not yet complete and indefinite. It becomes a call for further projects.

The principle of Hanke’s creative process is enduring and exactly the opposite of that typical of faster-paced artistic careers. Over time Hanke’s photographs gain in quality and become richer through new layers added by the years. Individual photos taken out of context call to mind traditional documentaries from the 1960s and 1970s. Their intensiveness stems from a well-thought-out examination of a problem: this often took place over months – even years.

Series that Hanke did not continue to work on still, despite this fact, leave their imprint on his later works. Many of his photographs, after the exhibit closed, only made their way to the public via media, small catalogues, or even went unnoticed by the viewing public. Thus it is more than desirable that a book through which we can map this continuity in his works be created. Or eventually we could find new relationships between individual collections.

Jiří Hanke always carefully chooses the content of his photos. He cautiously explores whether a theme is sufficiently communicable and strong. Provided he trusts the topic, he will address it for the rest of his life. Just as the life and artistic destiny of Viktor Kolář is forever tied to Ostrava, Jiří Hanke has remained true to his hometown, Kladno, and the surrounding area. This area known for heavy industry transformed after the Velvet Revolution into a fluid commercial area. This change also left it mark on the private space of individual households. Hanke does not seek out an existential abstract of themes, nor does he speculate on the meaning of art. He is interested in man’s relationship to the space in which he lives – his sociological settling down in a given area. Thus he created the series: Lidé z Podprůhonu – People from the Podprůhon Area (1974–1989), Kladno (1973–1989), TV image (1992–1994), Podnikatelé – Entrepreneurs (1992–1995) and Periferie – Periphery (2005).

The most noticeable guiding line in Hanke’s works is his timegathering. The artist returns after many years‘ time to places he photographed or to people with whom he already did some project or he looks again and again from the same window, below which history marched by. The two-sided monograph itself draws attention to the time dimension in Hanke‘s works. The cover features an image of a house in Váňova Street in Kladno and the changes it went through over the twenty years, during which the artist took its picture. Here one can find the book’s only colour accent, and this is most likely symbolic: this shot dating from 2001 shows the house freshly reconstructed and painted pink. Even though it might seem that concept means more to Jiří Hanke than the final photo itself, this is not so. Hanke skilfully balances on the border between bewitching reality and meditative messages. Each photo is a sufficient testimony to itself, yet the possibility to absorb it as part of a whole only deepens its meaning. Among Hanke’s most important projects taking advantage of patient waiting and system documenting are Pohledy z okna mého bytu – Views from the Window in my Flat (1981–2003), Otisky generace – Imprints of a Generation (1986–), Před výstavou – Before the Exhibit (1984–) and Ozvěny – Echoes (1975–2004).

Just as we would not categorise this artist as mainstream, neither are the themes he follows „trendy.“ Slow process changes in the evolution of one place, scans of the periphery or workers‘ districts, subtle integration of oneself into the peculiar world of musicians, or generational conflicts in one family all transcend keeping up with current trends. The world of celebrities, gaudy medals, or obvious symbols are of no interest to Jiří Hanke. He continues to watch what is happening on the periphery: that which must be shown and pointed out, for the still waters of Czech society do run deep. Even in the case of Pohledů z okna Hanke did not capture the evolution of the most obvious features, i.e. the public square in Kladno or Říp Hill. Rather he focused his view directly below his window.

Genre-wise Jiří Hanke’s works draw from drop photography, which provided the first impulse for his work. His beginnings hail from the series, Lidé z Podprůhonu, which is an in-the-moment documentary on the lives of simple Kladno residents. This tendency appears in later collections in an increasingly surreal manner of expression: we see it most noticeably in the photos from Pařížských fragmentů – Fragments of Paris (1979). But it is also visible in the series, Texas (1990) or Kladno (1988–1999). Photographs from Sametové revoluce – Velvet Revolution (1989) play a special role within the context of Hanke’s work, because they represent a concrete, short-term project about a fundamental political event in Czechoslovakia: a period report of sorts commenting on the situation at the time.

The monograph offering a cross-section of photographer and curator Jiří Hanke’s works thus far is a book that fills in yet another gap in the space that is Czech photography. Its elegant and subtle design rings true to the artist’s life and his works. Jiří Hanke has remained faithful to his environment, his themes and also to analogue photography. In his works we find no fluctuations. He proceeds systematically day after day on the path he has set for himself. But at certain moments he stops: to look around at just the right time.

Markéta Kubačáková