Fotograf Magazine


n this issue, Fotograf Magazine addresses a topic that has for a long time now been a potential choice and which ultimately, alongside preparation for and realisation of the first annual Fotograf Festival and Symposium, gained even greater meaning. The festival’s theme “Endless Waiting – Photography of the 1980’s” became a starting point from which programmes for future meetings at a similar level should develop and it became the theme for this issue. This does not mean, however, that the main point of view for this choice in the future will be a historicizing outlook. The 1980’s in local and global culture have gained in recent times an unexpected amount of interest, not only from art  theoreticians, but also from the youngest generation of artists and viewers. This is perhaps also nostalgia for art that reacts to its time worldwide with an atypical, charged intensity: often with a naive openness. Nostalgia for a time that did not fear risking embarrassment by exposing its own soul. In various parts of the world this tendency expressed itself in different ways. Therefore, even though the Fotograf Festival itself, which will take place from October to November 2011 in nine Prague galleries (see, is focused primarily on Czech photography from the 1980’s, the issue of the magazine that you have in your hand has a very global orientation. Despite this, please allow me to cite from my text / annotation on the festival:Two decades after a huge breeze in the life of Czech society, brought to use by the Velvet Revolution and its consequences, we have sufficient distance to allow ourselves to look back. The change in regime logically meant dramatic change in Czech culture, photography being no exception. Globalisation pushed into the Czech milieu, along with marketing philosophy and other elements that would significantly impact the area of culture.
Until that time photography had developed along two main lines: one had a strong tie to the inter-war avant-gardes and was motivated by an attempt to keep some distance from official culture, and this at least through declaration and ensuring oneself the right to experiment. The second line – the documentary one, but not only journalistic documentary, drew from the absurdity of the period and through poking fun at it (or making sarcastic commentary on it) created a circle of informed and often personally-engaged viewers.

At the very end of the last decade of the regime’s existence – noticeably fatigued by its own incompetence – new trends in young Czech photography appeared, ones which the Slovak students of the time at Prague’s FAMU heavily joined. These were escapist, post-Dadaist games meant to provoke and break down staid taboos that the regime was no longer able to keep an eye on and which brought life to a stagnant pond.

Alongside this, there were other forms of opposition to official art. Many conceptualists or performers recorded their events with photographs. Also certain forms of staged photographs had performance templates and meanwhile the line of documentary photography developed; one that had a strong motivation and an ethos flowing therefrom.

Jan Svoboda was an extraordinary figure on the photography scene at the time. His ties to the legacy of Josef Sudek are often emphasized. Though as time passes it is increasingly evident that his most significant contribution was a fundamental attempt to wrestle photography from the prison of professional “obedience”, so much supported by the regime at that time, and gain for it a position equal to that of conceptual artists of the day, such as Stanislav Kolíbal. Already then Svoboda had come forth with largeformat photo enlargements and his minimalist-conceptual approach set an example for further generations of photographers, or rather “artists using photography”, as it began to be called at the start of the 1990s.

With looser flows of information and the possibility to travel freely to Western Europe and the USA, until then inaccessible countries, Czech photography found itself in a completely different situation at the beginning of the 1990s. As in other areas of life at that time, a feverish globalisation began, an attempt to quickly adapt to current trends. Photography lost much of its initial motivation, but in lieu of it found completely new inspirations. Looking back, the 1980’s paradoxically appear to be the last period of albeit preserved, however still, as such, in fact very authentic Czech and Slovak photography.

During our initial discussions – together with my colleagues from the editorial board we spontaneously named our tips for the selection of artists for this issue based on global and local personalities of the time. In no case did we do so according to their historic significance, but according to how they – in our opinions – were for their time and for their country (even in relation to our domestic scene) typical and inspirational. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but in our backward recapitulation it showed that of the artists included, three of them died before the age of thirty: of them two by their own hand the other, not much older, later joined them in a similar irreversible fashion. Fortunately this sad glory is lacking for the many other great artists published in this issue. Despite this, I have the feeling that this strange statistic on the tenseness of the period and the tenseness of artists reacting to this period also says something. When preparing this issue we also thought about how the period of the 1980’s relates to today’s generation and how to integrate the youngest art scene. It became clear that many young artists use the 1980’s as a means for their artistic approaches; be it self-reflection (many of them were born in this period), or appropriation, quotation, sometimes even with a dose of sarcastic detachment, or also with nostalgia for a paradise lost. It is certainly a paradox that no one desires the return of the senseless totalitarian system, even if a feeling of loss of certain motivational values probably appears. Just as – since the end of the last world war – literature and film long came to terms with the loss of the last big “fateful” topic, photography too lost one of its big motivations and remained closed off in itself and in its post-modern, sophisticated games. “The Eighties”, as we familiarly call them in the editing room, had their big topics.

In the next issue of Fotograf we will head into a completely different domain. The theme will be photography and film and we will focus on longterm relationships of these two mutually-connected media.

Pavel Baňka