Fotograf Magazine

Jan Svoboda

A Picture That Will Not Return

The oeuvre of Jan Svoboda (1934–1990), one of the crucial figures of Czech post-war art, although easily divided into distinct periods, continually and determinedly explores the very essence of photographic depiction, questioning fundamental issues of the medium and conversing with parallel practices in painting, installation, and even conceptual art.

Jan Svoboda originally studied stage design but turned to photography in the late 1950s, inspired by the example of Josef Sudek as well as his own friends and peers (mostly painters and sculptors), who were attempting to reclaim the heritage of the European avant-garde after it was interrupted by the Nazi occupation and Stalinist repression. Inspired by Paul Cézanne’s valeur theory (in which pictorial elements relate to each other through tonal values rather than to an external reality), Svoboda experimented with the photographic process in the 1960s, specifically with various exposures and tonality. To liberate the images, he exhibited them without frames, pasting them on cardboard mats strengthened with metal supports, in essence creating two-dimensional flat sculptures, sometimes more than a meter in size. He further stressed the individual nature of these pieces by dating and signing then on the front.

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