Fotograf Magazine

Lands on the edge

Besides focusing on their own work and on various school exercises and assignments, the students of the Department of Photography at Prague’s Film and Television School, FAMU, occasionally spend time working on collective projects documenting selected regions, environ­ment and events or their long-term impact on society. In 2005, two such collaborative efforts culminated in exhibits: Otisk človeka v krajine/ Traces of Man in the Landscape (9 March – 3 April 2005 at Prague’s Palmovka synagogue) and Krajiny na kraji/ Lands on the Edge (14 April -5 May 2005 at the Lapidarium in Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel; touring exhibits: Vranov Castle in 2005, Kunstverein Weiden and the Spejchar in Cheb in 2006). Both exhibits were organized in collaboration with the Society for Landscape on the occasion of the third “The Face of Our Country/The Landscape of Our Homeland” conference.

The first exhibit was accompanied by an catalogue and focused on the traces left by man on the landscape, especially in the past few decades – traces which offer testimony on people’s behavior towards their surroundings and their long-term lack of interest in preserving natural processes or the way in which they relate to their environment. An important part of the exhibit was the choice of location itself – the synagogue’s interior shows the same traces of devastation and neglect as the landscapes captured in the photographs.

Despite its broad scope and large number of participating artists, the second project, Lands on the Edge, has a clear thematic focus. The title has multiple meanings: the landscape on the country’s borders, in the past inaccessible and obsessively guarded, today stands outside popular interest. The goal of the project was to show the current state of the border regions of the Czech Republic, most of which are in the former Sudetenland. The accompanying publication, with graphic design by Robert V. Novak, contains more than 170 photographs by 46 artists -both Czech and foreign students. Especially for the latter, the work on this series of photographs was their first introduction to areas outside of Prague and to the phenomenon of the country’s borderlands. The students, who came from all levels of study and artistic focus, were given the chance to express themselves on this important social topic through their photographs. The project was the idea of Jaroslav Berta, who collaborated with Bohumír Prokupek and Josef Ptaček on the participating students’ pedagogical supervision.

The publication and exhibit were divided by the region in which the photographs were taken. (As an aside, we should mention Emil Zavadil’s extraordinarily well-conceived installation, with the photographs placed within the Lapidarium’s raw environment on panels made of steel mesh, which gave the exhibited works even more impact.) The images take us to the Czech Republic’s border regions – the first sight a visitor to the country sees but areas that over the past decade have served as a testing ground for just about anything and everything that involves the manipulation of nature, cities and people. Elements of both the “accommodating” present and “trodden upon” past can be found in all photographs.

An important aspect of the entire project was its relative open­endedness – students were limited by neither form nor manner of expression. The images are as diverse as the borderlands themselves: there is color and black-and-white, and the photographic approaches include everything from reportage to socio-documentary and still life. Among other things, this is a reflection of the fact that landscape is a very broad concept, that it is composed not only of nature but in fact of everything that surrounds us, and that – most importantly – we ourselves are responsible for its state. For this reason, it is not even important to know where a particular photograph was taken -abandoned spaces can be found everywhere: ruins left behind by former residents, crumbling minor monuments, brutal reconstructions or uni­form modern developments, overgrown places where previously were villages or roads and footpaths. Cottage-owners’ ornate huts, old-timers’ houses “decorated” with adjoining shacks and shed for all sorts of activities, made of whatever materials were at hand. Electrical wires blocking the view of the horizon. Examples of the “modern” era, brothels, plaster gnomes, Vietnamese markets, supermarkets. We can even find extreme examples such as grazing goats and ostriches. Logic – or rather, continuity – seems to have taken a vacation. All of this can be found in the photographs.

The presented collection of photographs is extraordinarily well balanced, and the students’ works reflect the careful preparations that included, among other things, an introduction to the area’s history. The publication thus has a pronounced socio-cultural character. Some artists focus on the tension between the old and the new [Tomas Soueek, Tomas Dittrich), while others show man’s brutal imposition into the landscape (Linda Antalova, Andreas Loizou, Petra Steinerova), look for the traces of the past hidden in the landscape (Viktor Tubek, Radek Kveton, Stepanka Kromarove, Lucie Chraskova) or show contemporary reality (Simon Chang, Dora Kubfokove, Jan Symon, Katarina Brieova, Stepan Hon). The works show many different approaches, which often blend into one another.

The publication includes text by writer, columnist and artist Vaclav Vokolek, a native of Pardubice, whose family heeded the call to settle the borderlands and moved to the originally German town of DMIn. Vokolek’s personal essay about the changes of the Lands on the Edge concludes our journey through the country’s border regions.


Krajiny na kraji/Lands on the Edge/Land am Rand. Text by Jaroslav Berta, Veclav Vokolek. Lomnice nod Popelkou: Studio JB 2005. Publis­hed for the FAMU Department of Photography and the Society for Landscape.

Helena Musilova