Fotograf Magazine

Franz Fiedler up to date

The photographer Franz Fiedler (born March 17, 1885 Prostejov – died February 5, 1956 Dresden) belongs among the less-often anthologized figures of our cultural history. Antonin Dufek first organized an exhibition of his estate in 1981. Even then, the premiere was held in the museum of Fiedler’s native town, and the reprise in Brno, the base of Dufek’s long­term activities. He summarized the endeavor in an exhaustive catalogue, and in the year of the 120th anniversary of Fiedler’s birth he published an intriguing book, with an elegant design by Filip Skalak. The cover, with its attached reproduction, repeats the photographer’s concept of his own promotional brochure of 1925. Fiedler would use the image of the face, composed of negative and positive quarters, as his emblem until the end of his life. He boasted of having “a talent for taking photographs of beautiful women.” (That the book featured Fiedler’s texts expressing his intentions as photographer was itself a very valuable addition.)

Next to forty whole-page reproductions, the catalogue published last year also features small reproductions of all of the 182 works on exhibit, and translations of the introductory essay (into English and German).

What is remarkable is the difference in the curator’s commentary over a quarter of a century. The basic data remains the same, but its interpretation in terms of art history has naturally shifted. From the text dated 1981 one can read: “Fiedler was an artist not only of many sides, but also of a contradictory style. It is far from exaggeration if we call him both one of the most traditional and the most progressive artists. That is the conclusion one must arrive at when we compare his 1926 poster for an exhibition in Frankfurt, and an early 1930s bromoil print.”

On September 14, 2004, Dufek sums up his reassessment of Fiedler in the following words: “from his arrival on the photographic scene in 1904, the photographer immediately understood and accepted all sty­listic tendencies; in certain periods he would even employ several styles in parallel. (How post-modern!]”

Different interpretations of the same artistic heritage cannot be ascribed merely to Dufek’s maturing as a critic. Already at the beginning of the 1980s, in the catalogue Atelier Fiedler (Fiedler Studio, which later evolved into the Dresden Franz Fiedler publication) the Prostejov based establishment was given quite diverse descriptions: “in no way standing out from the period average”, “one of the few studios in the country which fully accepted the style of art photography (Pictorialismr; “we may say that in the period around the First World War it was one of the best European studios.”

In the catalogue Atelier Fiedler (Fiedler Studio], Dufek writes: “The passage of time turned many artistic exploits into pure kitsch.”In 2005, I look in vain for any such strong opinion. In my view, the part of Fiedler’s heritage accessible to us does not bear evidence of “possessing personal overtones”, as he articulated his ideal in the text Me cite (My Goals). Dufek notes that what we now have is but a torso of work, dating to 1906-1943. (The Fiedlers themselves survived the carpet bombing of Dresden, salvaging a single suitcase: in one fell swoop their house and studio ceased to exist, and the photographer, his hair turned gray overnight, observed his sixtieth birthday out on the street.)

It seems that Dufek is right when he defines Fiedler as an artist who would not bring forward innovation, but who would instead master new trends with technical brilliance. In my view, his sensibility was closest to that of the late Art Nouveau era. His creativity was at its strongest in portraiture. His male portraits are sober, his female portraits always idealized. The nudes did not turn into kitsch with the passage of time; they were kitsch immediately at the time of their creation.

Dufek A. Franz Fiedler Fotografie/Photographs/Fotografien. Brno: Morayska galerie, Praha: KANT 2005 (published to accompany the epo­nymous exhibition at the Moravian Gallery, Brno: December 15, 2005 -March 5, 2006)

Josef Moucha