Fotograf Magazine

Jiří Poláček

Not Just Smíchov

Several photos by Jiří Poláček were reprinted in Fotograf #15: Prague. The artist died last year shortly after his 70th birthday, and Fotograf Gallery presented the first ever retrospective exhibition of his work. Pavel Vančát prepared it and was not at all sparing when it came to the number of exhibited items. He managed to make quite a substantial volume accessible in a trio of chambers, but the exhibition rooms did not come across as overflowing. Where possible, priority was given to the original processing of the negatives (thus presenting some historically unique items). Mainly, however, it consisted of items from the artist’s estate (including later positives made using colored materials).

The curator rejected a chronological organization for this sampling of archival materials, but he did employ a certain logical approach. This evolved as the individual closed phases of the artist’s creative career were revealed. An accompanying list of dates, descriptions, and a brief explanation of the fate of each piece helped visitors navigate the exhibition. This information also provided a key to understanding this installation, which came across as purely photographic, and allowed viewers to better realize its revealing nature.

Poláček’s oeuvre is not all sewn from the same fabric. In the beginning, his works were inspired by the North American conception of realism, as exemplified in the creative techniques of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The impact of the photojournalistic course he took at the University of California, Los Angeles, did not diminish even after he returned from the USA (1972). It was compounded by his subsequent studies at the Department of Photography at FAMU (19741978) and his collegial friendship with Jan Svoboda, which also exerted a certain influence, as is particularly noticeable in Poláček’s cycle Reflections (19751976). Although Poláček is primarily known as one of the authors of the portrait book Czech People (1997), he gained individual popularity with his urban panoramas and later particularly excelled at providing unique brutal glimpses that added a special touch to the run-down scenery of his native Prague. Despite its title, the exhibition Jiří Poláček – Not Just Smíchov came across as if built on the legacy of his Smichov at Night from the early 1980s.

Josef Moucha