Fotograf Magazine

Miloš Spurný: The Czech-Moravian Highlands

Photographs taken by scientists tend to be a bit boring; they do not tell you much, unless you are an expert. But a large body of the photographic work by Miloš Spurný, a physiologist, botanist and landscape environmentalist, (1922—1979) is an exception to the rule. His second book succinctly called The Czech-Moravian Highlands1 was published in memoriam by Fotep. The photos were taken from the 1950s to the 1970s in Žďárské vrchy (the Zdar Hills), along the Svratka River, in Křižanovsko and around Nové Město na Moravě. The book will be a pleasure to leaf through for anyone who enjoys a slow exploration of complex natural and cultural processes imprinted in the photographic emulsion.

The book stands out not only for its aesthetic quality, but also for its interdisciplinary approach, embodied in the author himself. Such an approach is not a formality, as is often the case with many projects combining science and art. Miloš Spurný had a great insight into photography, he understood the laws of nature as well as the places he captured with his camera — and it shows. The book significantly enhanced by the inclusion with a reminiscence by Věra Spurná, his wife (and also a natural scientist); an essay about the landscape development of the Czech-Moravian Highlands by the bio-geographer Jan Lacina; and, last but not least, with a text written by Antonín Dufek, the founder of the photography collection of the Moravian Gallery in Brno.

Miloš Spurný had always combined science with technical images. He worked in a laboratory that explored life processes using film, focused on studying sprouting plants through cinematography (for which he received a number of awards abroad) and was interested in environmental issues. He shot both scientific and regional films. His “non-scientific” photography went in two directions.

Together with architects, he created large-format collages for public buildings, while his non-commissioned work focused on landscape photography. In 1965, he founded REKRAFO (a group devoted to a regional landscape photography) to photograph “small”, compact places on a long term basis. Antonín Dufek connects Spurný with New Topographics that tried to diminish the photographer’s impact on the image, a movement that was back then almost non-existent in a Czechoslovakia informed by subjective photography. As for the relationship between nature and documentary photography, Dufek compares Spurný’s work with the panoramic images of the North Bohemian landscape by Josef Sudek, or of the Beskydy Mountains by Rudolf Janda.

With the feelings of alienation and disaffection caused by globalisation and modern technology, it has become popular to concentrate on “our local, Czech-made”, but not so much in art. From art we expect a universal influence and impact. To be regional as an artist means not to be able make it big. But Miloš Spurný made regionality his programme, overcoming its limited reach. Thankfully, he did not attempt to express universal truths through the images of a particular place — unlike Jindřich Štreit in his The Village is a Global World — and remained faithful to a particular landscape. It is a joy to see the honest, lifetime work of Miloš Spurný, who managed to understand and capture so much in his photographs taken merely dozens of miles from his home — especially today, when the majority of our art scene travels across the world (encouraged by the way our grants policy works), appropriating various fields of science and commenting on anything and everything without hesitation, no matter how far from their country.


Jan Freiberg



SPURNÝ, Miloš. Českomoravská vysočina: The Czech-MoravianHighlands. Transl. Irma CHARVÁTOVÁ, trans. Tony LONG. Brno: Fotep, 2015. ISBN 978-80-86871-23-3.