Fotograf Magazine

And the mysterious magic of the photographer’s work does not consist in the red glow of the darkroom,

writes Eugen Wiškovský in one of his texts. Tomáš Pospěch prepared and published an anthology1 that includes all available writings of this Czech amateur photographer, a teacher by profession and an enthusiasticapostle of modern picture photography, whose theoretical work opposed landscapes with “birches in the breeze”, “all the genres with their sweet little children” “well-behaved still lifes with cast shadows” and who promoted specifically photographed motifs, or “photogenic” motifs to use the terminology of the time, in the spirit of New Objectivity. His better known contemporary Walter Benjamin says in A Short History of Photography that “It is a different nature which speaks to the camera than speaks to the human eye” – Wiškovský keeps going back to “the difference between seeing with the naked human eye and seeing with the lens ”; in the article “Tvar a motiv” (Form and Subject Matter, 1940), he even uses a beautiful metaphor of “the sleeping eye of the camera opened for a split second and depicted a section of the landscape, which was limited by the frame”. He makes repeated comparisons—symptomatic of his time—between photography and speech, for instance in his conclusion of the text “Zobrazení, projev a sdělení” (Depiction, Expression and Communication, 1941): “Furthermore, the language of photography, like the spoken language, has a relationship to three things: the object, the photographer, and the viewer; and it thus also has three functions: depiction, expression, and communication.”

Two introductory studies by Matthew Witkovsky and Tomáš Pospěch put Wiškovský’s legacy in the wider context it deserves, with the whole book available to foreign readers in English translation. There is no doubt that it is a commendable achievement, however an imperfect one. The anthology lack an editor’s note and critical commentaries, and we can only guess what the reason was for the texts to be published in their original, outdated orthography, which might make the reading more difficult. Bibliographic citations attached to the notes from Wiškovský‘s texts in the introductory studies refer only to the original versions in magazines, without stating where the quote is in the book itself, making it hard for anyone who wishes to work with the texts further. The selected reproductions lack any commentary whatsoever, and it is a great shame that the book does not include some of the photographs key to Wiškovský’s arguments.

It is therefore clear that what we have in front of us is not a critical edition of Wiškovský’s articles (one exception being a so far unpublished typescript about Funke) but rather a collection of compiled articles that are newly published and supplemented with the two introductory studies. Despite all this, the publication of the anthology deserves praise and we can hope that it will help root Eugen Wiškovský in the international context. True, his texts from different periods are of varied quality, but some passages remain surprisingly relevant even today, in spite of their archaic language: “And this transforming is the actual essence of aesthetic photography, a transfiguration, not, however, a distortion of reality. Transfiguration, that is a simplifying, a purifying, of reality of everything superfluous and unsuitable which would distort the image of our idea – of the subject matter – which is meant to reflect itself clearly in the mirror of the photograph, because, ultimately, subject matter does not exist without us. And the mysterious magic of the photographer’s work does not consist in the red glow of the darkroom, but in that ‘transforming’ which we were able to call forth on the face of reality.”

 

Hana Buddeus

 

 

WIŠKOVSKÝ, Eugen, POSPĚCH, Tomáš (ed.). Eugen Wiškovský: obrazová fotografe. Praha: PositiF, 2014. ISBN 978-80-87407-12-7

#28 cultura / natura

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