Fotograf Magazine

Dita Pepe

Dita Pepe’s exhibition in the Prague Velryba Gallery provoked an unexpected response in January this year. With her staged double portraits of women of various backgrounds, in which she herself plays ‘the double’, she has managed to unite in playful exaggeration two contrary principles of post-war photography: a perceptive, engaged attitude combined with the imagination of staged photography. Dita Pepe balances on the edge with a virtuosity that ranks her among the most interesting new names in contemporary Czech photography.

In contrast with most young photographers, Dita Pepe is an artist of rich and varied experience. The experience of leaving home at eighteen and her subsequent encounters with diverse geographical and social environments led her to explore her own identity and roots. It also awakened in her an interest in the plurality of lifestyles that opened a whole range of ‘possible worlds.’ ‘I feel,’ says Dita Pepe, ‘that everything in life is relative. When I look back on my life, if things had been just slightly different, I could have ended up being someone completely different from who I am now.’ This consciousness of an identity that integrates both design and chance is reflected in her photographs. One sees it in the changing roles she takes on in a startlingly unstudied way, both in relationship to the viewer and even more so in relation to her portrayed counterparts.

Two other factors play an important role in her cycle of photographs: environment and colour. Following on from her previous work in black and white, based on staged landscapes and presenting complex scenarios on a minimal scale of space and time, Pepe tries to get the maximum potential out of the authentic milieu of her models. Her meticulous colour compositions capture them in the most typical corners of their homes, reflecting their identities to such a degree that the background in fact becomes a third player in the entire cycle. While verging on caricature, this is, however, counterbalanced by a striving for maximum sincerity, an empathy for the portrayed model, a sharing of their ‘blood, sweat and tears.’ Dita Pepe thus finds herself in the space she is visiting and decides between the role of a member of the tribe and the role of an ethnographer. In the end, she disappears – if only temporarily – into the milieu of her photographs (in a way that is analogous to visual riddles of the sort ‘can you find a zebra in this picture?’).

Dita Pepe’s photographs thus mirror a change of attitude towards social reality that is constructed (and at the same time entirely visible) on the level of the relationship between the autonomous subjects and their specific backgrounds. As Michel de Montaigne wrote long ago: ‘If someone asked me to say why I loved my friend, I think all I could say would be, “ For it was him, for it was I.”’ Dita Pepe shows us both sides of this relationship, as well as both sides of photography. She shows us what it means to be a woman today, and what it means to be a woman photographer.

Pavel Vančát