Fotograf Magazine

In memoriam

The Nová Paka Municipal Museum organized a retrospective to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Miroslav Hák (1911–1978), famous for his surrealistic experience and membership in the illegal, wartime Group 42. Art historian Jan Nízký, along with the photographer’s son remarkably discharged the duty of curator.

Michael Hák influenced the exhibition, laconically named after the author, by providing exhibits and archived material, and with the help of his father’s written materials he contributed to dating the photos. The installation presented works from the years 1927 to 1968. There were 142 works altogether which evokes the connection of Hák’s rounded anniversary and the year of the creation of Group 42’s Prague base.

Along with sculptor Ladislav Zívr and painter František Gross, Hák invited avant-garde colleagues to Nová Paka at a time that provoked such an endeavour all the more but which suited it all the less. Not only did they engage leisurely in modern art well within the range of the Third Reich, they even decided to demonstrate it publicly. In the spring of 1943, the Group 42 still did not have an official name but its entry into the history of alternative culture was forged due to bureaucratic powers which prematurely terminated the exhibit in Nová Paka. The same year in autumn, the same circle succeeded in making a definitive breakthrough – a creative art review in Prague’s Topič Salon.

Hák ceased to work actively at the end of the 1960s by selecting the most effective images and enlarging them. Various collections were then made from this larger collection of 60 x 50 cm format pictures, mainly in Czech museums. In addition, the organizers of the exhibitions make use of them in like favour. Moreover, Hák prepared two monographs from his life. He headed straight for tenure, capitalizing on his exceptional sense for artistry in gray-scale.

The series of popular Hák solitaires of smaller formats in Nová Paka were augmented by varying motifs in order to demonstrate the work as though in the making. They betrayed not only all kinds of influences but also the fact that the photographer recast them to a more personal mould. The 1930s for instance saw him add to his portrait of a beau-ideal, personified pair of Parisian surrealists, André Breton and Paul Eluard.

The relentless pressure between his enormous sensitivity and demons of the time in which he lived brought Hák his primary inspirations. This is clear right from pre-war events. See for example The Mask from the late 1930’s. He responded to the German occupation through depicting a series of abandoned city corners and by escaping into privacy by taking intimate shots of nudes. A return to natural themes followed the second totalitarian period, and after the Soviet occupation in 1968 came the final statement: the still-life, Sad Flowers (on the background of a prefabricated panel building). The curator offered the justified opportunity to perceive the exhibition and the work as a melancholy parable of Hák’s lot in life.

The importance of the long-awaited reconciling of the inheritance of this creative artist gifted with outstanding vision overlapped the region of Hák’s native Podkrkonoší hills just as distantly as the photographer’s creative legacy. The fundamental characteristic of Miroslav Hák was not the will to experiment; though he never stopped doing so even at a mature age. He had his credo recorded by author Ludvík Souček in the book, Ways towards Modern Photography (1966): “If you want to write something about me,” asked Hák, “write that I always loved experimental photography, but that I tried to bring into each picture a certain poetry, and I actually photograph for this poetry. Constantly.”


Jan Nízký: Miroslav Hák. Municipal Museum, Nová Paka 2011, unpaged, 54 reproductions

Josef Moucha