Fotograf Magazine

One man show: Jiří Hanke

Jiří Hanke, photographer and chief dramaturg of the Small Gallery of the Česká Spořitelna savings bank in Kladno, celebrated thirty years of his exhibition activities with a retrospective of portraits of artists that he had invited to his native town on a long-term basis, often repeatedly.

Kladno is a bizarre industrial agglomeration just outside of Prague, thanks to which accident of geography it was not drained of its population when the heavy industries of the satellite town were undermined by the botched privatization of state-owned ironworks. A local patriot, Hanke organized workshops at which his friends would travel down into the black-coal mines in order to photograph mining in its most deadly form of stagnation, later serving to document the vanishing traditions of the iron and steel industry in the Czech lands. At the opening of the outcome of the first workshop (October 18, 1994, at the Regional Museum in Kladno) Hanke proclaimed in vain: “And it is no small thing that the photographs on exhibit now become the property of the Regional Museum in Kladno. If in the coming years we succeed in continuing the project we have embarked on, the city of Kladno will thus acquire a valuable photographic documentary. And this should in fact be desirable by any town that respects its past and its present.” Kladno did not make available the funds for a third workshop, since the photographs of the first two years reminded the civil servants too greatly of Socialist Realism. All the more vehemently, Hanke maintained the less financially demanding (but all the more energy-sapping) gallery activities in the corridor of the bank where he worked until his retirement.

The improvised conditions of exhibiting in a financial institution were valuable mainly during the period of the former totalitarian regime, as they offered a free haven from official censorship. Starting with the year epitomized by the Charter 77 declaration of human rights, Hanke realized there his idea of the freedom of speech. In October 1984 it occurred to him that he should capture his venerable guests for posterity before each exhibition opening. He started with the artist Jasan Zoubek. Since 1988, he focused exclusively on fellow photographers. In 2001, the photo-gallery had to move to the house next door. After twenty-five years of exhibitions, the scene where Hanke could pick up his documentary portraiture changed radically. The staircase, which turns at a right angle at the landing, offers more creative possibilities to both the photographer and the photographed. The variety of the shots, however, does not allow for as powerful an impact as the sequence of images made in a single mould. A few portraits were even taken outdoors: in short, the original concept went to the dogs.

What is most valuable about this book is something that cannot be seen at first glance – either in the present publication or in the one of a decade ago, which formed a sort of Volume One, as it was identical both in format and graphic design. It is a reflection of the human relationships cultivated by Hanke with such profundity that he can continue in his work no matter how seriously some of the exhibiting artists have since started taking themselves. Thanks to the informal relationships between the author and the portrayed, however, we may regard this original type of visual annual report also as an extraordinary self-portrait.


Hanke J. Malá galerie České spořitelny v Kladně 1977–2006. Příbram: Job 2006, 64 pages.

Josef Moucha