Fotograf Magazine

On the Uniqueness and Reproduction of the Photographic Image

The publication Jedinečnost a reprodukce fotografického obrazu (On the Uniqueness and Reproduction of the Photographic Image) represents the theoretical component of Ondřej Přibyl’s dissertation thesis for the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, Prague (UMPRUM). The work is divided into eight separate sections – each can stand alone in its own right, yet all are interconnected and the order in which they are presented is by no means random. The two introductory texts trace several themes which have been linked with the medium of photography since its inception. The artist addresses general issues of the relationship between photography and reality, the (in)dispensability of craftmanship in art, and the role of photography in art, contemplated against the backdrop of the evolution of photography from its origins to the present era of the digital image. He also mentions specific photographs whose qualities in the context of art and photography are discussed in detail separately in chapter 3.

Chapter 5 and 6 are essentially essays. The former mainly discusses the difference between an original work of art and its reproduction. According to Přibyl, the pivotal role is played by the artist, who creates the work and also decides whether and to what extent to expose it to the reproducibility of the medium. The other, penultimate text contemplates the values that help distinguish an original from a fake. Apart from artistic and aesthetic aspects, Přibyl accentuates what he terms a “cult quality”, consisting of the signature and dating of the work. This brings him to the subject of the daguerreotype – the technique used in the practical section of his dissertation. The introduction to the technique outlined here is discussed in more detail in the final chapter, Daguerrotypie dnes (The Daguerreotype Today). According to him (and for him personally) the daguerreotype represents a response to the “problem of reproducibility, an ability to make more copies from one matrix” – for this technique is not a reproducible medium, despite having been created by photographic means. The final section of the book can thus be read partly as a defence of the author’s own artistic choices and oeuvre.

The afterword to the dissertation is by Tomáš Dvořák, who understands the practical section of Přibyl’s work as a “commentary on the present condition of the photographic technique”, summing up the theoretical part of the dissertation as “an extensive analysis of the key notions and concepts which accompanied the medium of photography from its inception.” The recurring questions which run through the entire history of photography are often addressed by reiterating the same old formulae. Přibyl tries hard (and often with success) to eschew these clichés, and as a result his publication is in many respects inspiring. It may be read as a pendant to the classical texts on photography, particularly due to its fresh perspective, an original articulation of the relevant vocabulary as well as its polemic with the current state and uses of the medium of photography.

Tereza Špinková