Fotograf Magazine

Havel the Human Being

If a photograph truly has the magical power to bring into the present that which was, then both of the discussed books are an unusually powerful representation of the life of Václav Havel. Although both books show Havel without any embellishments, they are very different from each other – as different as the photographic signatures and natures of the two authors.

Tomki Němec started photographing Václav Havel during the first presidential elections as part of a project undertaken by the Radost Student Agency at Prague’s FAMU. As he says in an interview with Daniel Anýž at the close of his book, he could not abandon a “semifnished” product and decided to keep on photographing Havel. He was pushy. He got in everywhere. In Moscow and in the USA, he was at the meetings of the leading politicians of that time, just as he was at Havel’s Hrádeček. Tomki’s photos are as powerful as the energy he had to expend in order to obtain them.

As a result of the time period during which Tomki was photographing Václav Havel, he captured primarily “President” Havel. He portrayed the person standing at the head of a young democratic country, as he dragged us up from a notional bottom to the starry skies – the Vladislaus Hall, The Rolling Stones, Stockholm, the White House, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright… He showed us the stage that the world was at the time, as well as a bit of that star-studded backdrop. A sense of pride arises in us. In the best tradition of the Magnum Photos agency, Tomki Němec captured Václav Havel as a historical event.

If I were to name one photograph that does not present a perfectly sharp image of statesman Havel, it would be the inconspicuous, slightly blurred shot that captures Havel immediately before he took his presidential oath – perfectly portending the rebirth of a free person into a public persona. The sensitive and forcefully compelling expression on hisface literally sends shivers down one’s spine.

Everything prior to this moment was captured in what could be called a family album by Bohdan Holomíček – lively celebrations at the Hrádeček, theatre rehearsals, gallery openings, last performances, birthdays, funerals, ageing, friendship… This more formally standard book captures the truly more modest moments in the lives of the Havel couple and their immediate environment – specifcally the surviving intellectual elite of the nation. Holomíček’s typical photo captions, written in pencil along the edge (of what are now photos made from scanned negatives), complete the image of the homelike atmosphere permeating the entire publication. However, Bohdan Holomíček did not stop taking photos of Havel even when he assumed the presidential offce – in the words of Václav Havel, as written in thanks on a postcard inserted in the book, he continued to remain “a permanent witness to the events in my life and the history of our nation”.

The two books have both been, I believe, created with love and with the desire to capture the truth. The photos in one were made by a close friend, those in the other by a close colleague. Both capture Václav Havel in the roles he wrote for himself over the course of his life – husband, friend, dramatist, writer, drinker, critic, thinker, politician, statesman – in other words, a human being.

Both of them are books you want to have at home – if only because of your grandchildren.


Kateřina Písačková



Holomíček, Bohdan. Album Václav / Václav – The Album. Prague: Torst, 2016. Print.

Němec, Tomki. Václav Havel. Fotografe / Václav Havel. Photographs. Prague: Tomki Němec, 2016. Print.