Fotograf Magazine

The Poetic World of Everyday Life

Lukáš Bártl raises public awareness about topics that had been
widely discussed in literature before 1989, but later avoided by the art
historians who rather focused on authors who stood aside. In Všední
den (Everyday Life), Bártl made good use of his long-time interest in this
topic and evaluated the phenomenon that has been an integral part of
the history of Czech photography but had not been dealt with separately
until now. The graphic design of the impressive book with a cover
photograph by Pavel Dias is based on the aesthetics of the late 1950s.

The poetry of everyday life was photographed in the specific
context of the toughest years of socialist realism, and benefited
from the so-called thaw and the return to less radical manifestations
of interwar art. Lukáš Bártl rightly limited it this era to the period
between 1957 and 1963. This “period of compulsory idyll for all” was
characterized by clear content, positivity or optimism, and finding beauty
in everyday life. I would add that it was also characterized by certain
compositional awkwardness and unacknowledged staging when the
staging approaches were loosely combined with found snapshots.
Another characteristic was the poetization of reality, or what was called
“lyricism” (Ludvík Souček) in the 1960s, i.e. a specific feature of Czech
photography that contrasted with the descriptiveness and sharpness of
Germany photography. Lukáš Bártl describes all these elements. In the
extensive introductory text, however, he could have also mentioned who
had used the concept of the poetry of everyday life for the first time, or
he could have stressed the continuity of the Czech tradition of candid
photography, interwar social photography and humanist photojournalism.

The author also studies the poetry of everyday life in the context
of contemporary literature and film, defining it against socialist realism.
He calls into question the often referred to continuity of the Group 42
programme, found only in vague external features. He also mentions its
close relationship with contemporary periodicals. The poetry of everyday
life could be frequently seen in illustrative photographs in newspapers
and numerous cultural magazines such as the Večerní Praha, Květen,
Plamen, Kultura, Kulturní tvorba, and Host do domu. It also echoed in
contemporary image publications – typically featuring pictures of sights
and nature – that also documented a new interest in everyday life in city
streets. The question is whether this official recognition did not make the
poetry of everyday life grow sterile.

I do not think it is appropriate to apply the term also to the 1940s
as Lukáš Bártl did mainly in the case of Jan Beran. The photographers of
everyday life could have certainly been inspired by pre-war documentary
photography, e.g. the work of Václav Jírů, Jiří Jeníček, Jan Lukas, and
Václav Chochola, but I would not include them into this trend. I also find
it somewhat farfetched to include Pavel Dias and the authors around
the Mladý svět magazine who rather strived for dynamic, live pictures
captured in everyday life in the style of world humanist photojournalism.
I would also not relate the poetry of everyday life to the work of Vilém
Reichmann and Josef Sudek. On the contrary, the question is whether
the book should not present the photographs by Jiří Všetečka from
the late 1950s, published later in the Pražský chodec (The Walker of
Prague) cycle, or photographs by Dagmar Hochová, Josef Prošek and
Tibor Honty. All this suggests that the poetry of everyday life was quite
a vague term defying a clearer definition, so Bártl’s effort to examine it is
praiseworthy.

To some extent, a positive poetic world of everyday moments can
be perceived as an escape to a world without complications, from
negative aspects to empty positivism. This imposes a question whether
the poetry of everyday life was not just a soft version of socialist realism
which also called for the interest in the work of man – and pictures
of the life of real people, preferably workers – and turned away from
experiments and more expressive approaches. This conclusion is also
suggested by Lukáš Bártl when he describes the poetry of everyday
life as a connecting link between the photography of socialist realism
and documentary photography of the 1960s. In the late 1950s, Bohdan
Holomíček received his first camera from his parents, and Viktor Kolář,
Josef Koudelka, and a few years later, Markéta Luskačová started to take
photographs as well. The stellar moment of Czech candid photography
was being silently born.

Tomáš Pospěch

BÁRTL, Lukáš. Všední den v české fotografii 50. a 60. let. (Everyday life in Czech
photography of the ’50s and ’60s), Řevnice: Arbor vitae, 2018. ISBN 978-80-88256-
01-4 and 978-80-87395-38-7.

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