Fotograf Magazine

Stepan Grygar’s recapitulation

/gallery of modern art, roudnice nad labem, 11.5. 2006 – 18. 6. 2006/

It is owing to a family tradition of engagement with the arts, among other things, that Stepan Grygar brings to his work a sense of detachment that goes beyond the intuitive approach of many Czech photographers. Since the mid-1970s, he has been one of the youngest yet most distinguished representatives of Czech visualism in photo­graphy, and in the 1980s Grygar evolved towards a mood combining a conceptual approach and the post-constructivist reflection of the medium of photography. As a whole, Grygar’s body of work can be said to belong among the most diverse oeuvres in contemporary Czech photography. At the moment, Stepan Grygar is also active as a pedagogue at his alma mater, the Department of Still Photography at FAMU, Prague. He has recently defended his’ habilitation thesis on Conceptual Art and Photography, in an intriguing way, its successful book form throws light on historical facts that remain little known in Bohemia, as well as questions that continue to divide the communities of photographers and artists.

In a grand space, the exhibition in the Gallery of Modern Art in Roudnice nad Labem presented the most extensive selection from his work to date. While some of Grygar’s photographs from the 1970s, and even more so those of the 1980s, have already become icons of Czech photography of those decades, the exhibition in Roudnice reveals him instead as an artist of a conceptual turn of mind. Grygar filled the enormous space of the former Lobkowicz riding hall with three series of images, working with cyclicity and a consistent concern with a single motif. The two larger and one smaller series all captured minimal transformations of a single theme, whether in a view from a window opening on a road buried with falling snow (as if his often-published older photograph of an angel in a snowstorm were in fact a kind of prototype of his later cycles], down to the “Rosslerian” shot of an abstract triangular motif, or a Surreal concrete form, metaphysically rendered in subtle variations of composition and lighting. These series explored the singularity and compositional balance at the very core of the language of photography, and in fact were “linguistic games” in the field of photography. In the smaller adjoining rooms Grygar presented a cross-section of his work from the last several years, in which he rediscovered his avant-garde roots. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, in which the director of the Roudnice gallery, Miroslava Hlaveekova, puts Grygar in the broader context not only of photography, but contemporary art in general.

As was also suggested in the exhibition Photography?? (Klatovy 2004, Brno 2005), which the author co-curated with Jan Freiberg, Grygar’s works are in fact on the edge of late Modernism, drawing retrospectively on the avant-garde roots and post-conceptual tendencies in Czech photography – among whose representatives, perhaps closest to Grygar is an artist a full generation younger, the “artist working with photography”, Marketa Othova. However while Othova and others approach photography as a primarily banal and ephemeral medium, Grygar – a photographer by education – on the contrary tries within a conceptual framework to maintain photography’s status as an art form, as well as a purely avant-garde poetic.

Pavel Vancat