Fotograf Magazine

Dušan Šimánek

Dušan Simanek, issued by TORST Publishers, and with accompanying essays by Anna Farova and Lanka Lindaurova, is the first monograph dedicated to a well-known Czech photographer of the middle generation. Simanek’s scope is broad, ranging from documentary, advertisement and fashion photography to artistic portraiture as well as free creative photography. The balanced quality of all the components of this spectrum might have seduced the editors towards a fragmentation of the book into several heterogeneous thematic areas. They avoided this danger by concentrating on Simanek’s creative photography. The selec­tion of photographic cycles included, covering nearly three decades of work, was conducted with great care and responsiveness in terms of harmonizing the themes and visual style of the individual images. The resulting publication is thus consistent, with a clearly articulated range.

The book opens with a cycle from the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, Silence. Simanek started working on Silence when he was thirty, that is, at an age when an artist usually overcomes the early stages of exploration in their evolution and embarks on more mature work. It is a time when one articulates with full energy their position as an artist. In Silence Simanek documented the vanishing courtyard-gallery houses of the oldest part of the Prague neighborhood of Zizkov. He did not, however, dwell on views of courtyards or streets, and concentrated instead on segments of interior walls. His sole theme was of surfaces decorated by wallpaper or paint with various ornamental patterns. His images acquire the form of balanced, abstract surface compositions, where color and ornament come to the forefront. Simanek has a great sense for working with nuances of colon In each of his abstract compositions he is able to capture the peculiarity of the various rooms in these Zizkov tenement houses. His aesthetic corresponds with that of Czech abstract painting of the 1960s and 1970s, reflecting what went on in the artistic mainstream of the time. In the days of 8imanek’s maturity as an artist, the dense structural abstraction of I “art informal was being replaced by new sensitivity, which was more alive to subtle shades of color. Silence can thus be read as a parallel in photography to the new sensitivity of Bostik.

Flat abstract composition, and subtle work with shades of color and a contemplative introspection became the leitmotifs of Simanek’s free creative work in photography. This element runs through all of his creative periods. In the cycle Kulisy [The Set), which he has worked on since the 1980s, the abstracted surfaces acquire a Constructivist aspect. In sections of housing project walls and windows, striking contour lines come to dominate. The subdued color range is replaced by an accentuation of the surface texture and a sharp sense of material. This fascination with the texture of matter becomes even deeper in his newer cycle KN2e [Crosses). The surfaces of real objects entirely lose their entity as such. The visual language is narrowed to focus purely on the expressiveness of a densely structured surface, in which we may perceive traces of intercrossing lines. The archetypal symbol of the cross is endowed by the photographic rendering with a raw contemplativeness. The black and white range amplifies this impression,

The exploration of the expressive possibilities of the surface structure is nevertheless only one of the directions in which Simanek has evolved in terms of his abstract compositions with surfaces. A secondary strain in his work is dominated by the stress on subtle work with shades of color, something characteristic already of Silence, The cycle Okna (Windows) conveys these issues in a contemporary language free from any reminiscence of new sensitivity. The surfaces of windowpanes reflect the surrounding landscape, lending it the indispensable abstract dimension. The color range achieves a subtle and almost Decadent tonality of melancholy. Simanek exploits to the full the possibilities of the color medium, fully plumbing the subtlety of its expressive moods. Windows demonstrate a way in which it is possible to rethink an aesthetic premise that draws in its essence on the 1970s, but trans­lates it into the artistic language of the early 21st century. The problem of the transposition of earlier aesthetic approaches into contemporary form is solved, differently, also in his most recent cycle, Multiply, which in a technically flawless manner works with the Pop Art aesthetic of the beauty of objects of everyday use.

Among the cycles that go beyond the theme of visual expression of abstracted surface are Nedelnf odpoledne (Sunday Afternoon) and Bazen (Swimming Pool). The inconspicuous Sunday Afternoon combines a convincing rendition of atmosphere, together with the light touch of contemporary photographic design. Swimming Pool represents a tribu­te to traditional black and white large-format photography. Even though Simanek’s creative photography builds above all on the visual power of detail, his photographs of the deserted swimming pool manifest a keen sense for monumental composition, and an ability to use its typical stylistic features. The way in which these photographs combine monumentality and a quiet mood of introspection makes Swimming Pool, together with Windows the most compelling part of Simanek’s monograph.

Dusan Simanek ranks among those photographers whose sensibility has been influenced by painting. This lends him great sensitivity when working with color values, as well as creating compositions that go beyond the framework of traditional photography, instead of finding points of reference with other visual genres. As an artist, he is of a clearly introspective temper. These qualities, together with a technical brilliance make him an artist whom with some degree of simplification we may describe as the poet of silence. Simanek’s monograph focuses only on a segment of his work. Yet it is precisely this angle that is most eloquent in presenting him as an artist.

Robert Janas