Fotograf Magazine

A tribute to an (art)historian of photography

Lukáš Bártl and Petra Trnková edited this volume in honour of Antonín
Dufek, emeritus curator of photography at the Moravian Gallery in Brno.
As such, the book incorporates many of the features of the Festschrift
bibliographical genre: it serves as a greeting card to its dedicatee,
conveying the respectful recognition of outstanding Czech and Slovak
scholars in the field of the history and theory of photography, through
a collection of thirteen essays on topics related to Dufek’s areas of
professional dedication and scholarly interest. It furthermore includes
a comprehensive bibliography covering the dedicatee’s career and
photographic portraits as well as an interview which should serve in future
both as a synopsis and a landmark of his 50-year involvement with the field.
One can only regret that the editors omitted to include biographies of the
collected authors, or indeed of Dufek himself, in order to illuminate their
mutual links, thus leaving the reader to rely on his personal knowledge of
the Czech photographic scene or on hints scattered in the essays to grasp
whether they were friends, colleagues, former students or admirers.

A brief preface explains how the volume was conceived, providing the
reader with a reflection about the variety of fields wherein photography has
made deep inroads in the course of Dufek’s career, beyond the discipline
of art history that structured his approach. Together with John Szarkowski
in the United States or Jean-Pierre Lemagny in France, he is indeed part of
a generation of curators who viewed photographers as authors and their
works as creations and studied them through the lens of art history and its
canonical methods, such as periodization, classification and comparative
practice. This becomes clear in Dufek’s interview, in which he recalls the
training he received at Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Brno. Yet
it should be noted that his most acclaimed writings about the history of
Czechoslovak photography, notably the exhibition catalogue from 1981,
are not limited to mere diachronic and teleological narratives of aesthetic
movements, but also scrutinize the medium’s cultural and social functions.

As the preface points out, Dufek’s lifelong ambition “to anchor
photography firmly in the framework of art history, in academic discourse
as well as curating practice” served as a guiding principle for gathering
the authors, although many of them take a step forward, as becomes clear
when probing the set of apparently unrelated essays. They are organised
chronologically, ranging from 19th century history and theory of photography to
the late 20th century development of the medium as a transmedial practice.

Essays by Pátek, Nešlehová and Konečný are dedicated to the work of
prominent Czech photographers whom Dufek helped either shape or promote.
An unpublished essay from 1976 by Jan Michl stands out, as it provides
a valuable period insight on Josef Sudek’s gaze on the everyday understood
as the result of his sense of “psychic security”. Postwar photography is given
special attention through Lahoda’s compelling survey of photorealism’s impact
on film and Bártl’s text on Czechoslovak photobooks, as well as Fišerová’s analysis of the Slovak New Wave in photography. Other essays
adhere to the current transdisciplinary approach of photography, heeding
its social, economic and political uses: Koklesová focuses on the relations
between Czechs and Slovaks as documented by interwar press photography,
while Trnková’s analysis of five daguerreotype portraits of Brno’s officials
hint at the part played by early photography practice in shaping local
identities. Moreover, Lehmannová’s case-study of Josef Hoffmann’s amateur
snapshots illustrates the usefulness of artists’ photographic documentation.
Though the remaining theoretical discussions by Císař, Kundračíková and
Pečinková distance themselves from Dufek’s way of engaging with history,
they remain relevant contributions to this valuable state of research on
Czech and Slovak photography history and aesthetics, and a demonstration
of Dufek’s long-lasting influence and posterity.

Fedora Parkmann

TRNKOVÁ, Petra and Lukáš, BÁRTL (eds.), Fotografie především. Sborník textů k poctě
Antonína Dufka (Photography above all. A collection of texts to honor Antonín Dufek),
Brno: Books&Pipes Publishing, 2017. ISBN 978-80-7485-149-0.

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