Fotograf Magazine

Gustav Aulehla and the see-through mirror

Itʼs nothing new that almost every generation of professional historians writes their own history, their interpretation of the past, influenced by the social and political presence and their knowledge of the period, in which the author-historian works. Just recall the transformation of understanding historiography from the history of the individual on to studies of culture and everyday life in the past.

The history of photography also succumbs to general processes of filling in and rewriting history based on intensive studies of known topics and newly- discovered facts. The distance since the close of the 20th century is so far minimal. Nonetheless we notice impulses trending toward the reformulation of Czech photography. In addition to a summary and intense processing, literally, of everything from František Drtikol (daily work journals) or Josef Sudek (privatissima), the image of Czech photography has been shifted also by stuffing in the work of Kyjov eccentric and artistic solitaire, Miroslav Tichý (*1926). His work has been re-appraised mainly thanks to the post-modern redefinition of photography as a medium of free expression that no longer takes into account classic technological rules.

Rewriting the history of photography definitely does not stem only from the means of using the medium and its technologies. Discoveries also relate to areas that we could classify under the reliable, even if today somewhat outdated, term

straight photography. A new approach to artist monographs has taken hold at international book fairs: editors include unpublished photos, contacts sheets with copies of negatives, letters, diaries and rich factographic appendices.

At the national level this is for now an extensive approach to immediate (momentary) photography; last year – 2009 – brought with it a large number of changes. An event of discovering character as the initially anonymous photo exhibit from the WWI period, whose author, Jindřich Bišický (1889-1949), until the time of the exhibit in the Theresian Wing of Prague Castle, had remained completely unknown. Perhaps another strong stimulus remained slightly in his shadow: the summer-published monograph of Gustav Aulehla.

Gustav Auhlelaʼs first monograph (*1931) complements the history of Czech documentary photography from the period between 1957 till 1990. Vladimír Birgus prepared the book by mainly using photographs that until then had remained unpublished.

Gustav Aulehla is not completely unknown as a photographer. Despite the fact that he has been taking pictures since the 1950s, the first article about him in the magazine, Revue Fotografie 86, that I had the honour of writing, was a somewhat late debut. Moreover, it was accompanied by a selection of compromising photos and the editors made numerous cuts/edits.

The critiqued monograph now captures the artistʼs photographic development from his first photos dating from 1957 up to the year 1990. The last reproduction is a shot of a Soviet tank transporter, apparently included for its symbolic meaning. It was only under free conditions that the artist could show images of totalitarian everyday life in public.

Aulehlaʼs initiatory experience was an encounter with the monograph of Henri Cartier-Bresson penned by Anna Fárová (1958). Afterwards throughout his life in the role of a non-earning and independent artist he succumbed to documentary photography, cinema film, Leica cameras and narrow black frames, which substantiates that the whole field of the negative had been enlarged. This form would have been a more empty envelope had Aulehla not filled it in with images of life, mainly from the somewhat neglected North Moravian towns of Krnov and Ostrava. He travelled there to take pictures due to the modicum of big-city anonymity. He photographed what he lived: everyday life, street events, celebrations, meetings, parties and funerals. His own application of the humanist style of photography, his immense creative endurance (for many years he was practically without the possibility to present his work publicly) and his personal charisma also influenced Jindřich Štreit during the 1980s. And similar to Aulehla he also fell into the sights of the repressive structure.

Aulehlaʼs collective work developed over a decade is defined by such an impressive combination of truth, absurdity, rawness, emotions and their estrangement, objectiveness and its subjective alienation, that itʼs suitable to remark regarding John Szarkowskiʼs historical concept of „Mirrors and Windows” (1978) that some mirrors are two-way and are thus sort of windows.

Petr Klimpl