Fotograf Magazine

The Infinity of Lists

An incomplete calendarium of Czech photography 2002–2022

Even though history is not obedient and does not unfold from a given date to another, instead passing by in an unbroken continuum, it is our habit to single out various epochs and phases. Such an act is preceded by an attempt to identify events or moments that can be considered turning points. Points, after which nothing (or “something at least”) is not as it was before. But what if we set such a marker merely on the basis of the establishment of a magazine (i.e. an event that is relatively insignificant, a turning point perhaps only for a narrow group of people), and attempt to discover whether a mere list of events as they took place in time can create a partial image, at least, of the transformative processes and climate changes that the Czech (and not only Czech) photographic scene has undergone during that time. Writing a calendarium of the preceding twenty years was an experiment that brought up a number of questions: What to include in the game and what to leave out this time? What was crucial? What was crucial then and in retrospect? And for whom? What to comment upon and what to leave only as a dry statement of fact? To what extent should we hold on to that small, well-known piece of land in the global ocean? And which parts of this land do we allow into our description of the global ocean, as they have already practically made their home there? What image will be created? And what image do I want to create?



At the Václav Špála Gallery in Prague, Jiří David exhibited a collection titled Bez soucitu (No Compassion), in which he used agency photos of leading global politicians and added motifs of tears. This was not the first use of digitally edited photographs in Czech visual art, but David’s crying politicians became one of the iconic series of the time. ● A 100-year-flood destroyed the spaces of the Prague House of Photography. Although the exhibition program was moved to an alternative venue, this was the beginning of the end of an institution in which Czech art photographers placed their trust and hopes throughout the 1990s to support and promote artistic photography. ● Markéta Othová was the first “photographer” (and the second woman) to win the Jindřich Chalupecký Award, an annual prize for young Czech artists awarded since 1990. ● An editorial team gathered around the photographer Pavel Baňka published the first issue of Fotograf Magazine. With the financial support of businessman and sponsor Miroslav Lekeš, the magazine could afford to focus purely on artistic photography. Thanks to its English mutation, this was also the creation of the first (and still the only) “export” periodical with this focus.



The Forum of Digital Photography took place twice in Prague, introducing audiences to the benefits of digital technology. ● The first issue of DIGI magazine was published. ● Due in large part to the energy of Zuzana Meisnerová Wismer, whose great-grandfather Jan Langhans ran a famous photography studio in Prague, a gallery aimed at the presentation of artistic photography was opened in the restituted and freshly renovated building. Professional leadership and an internationally focused program made Langhans Galerie Praha one of the most significant points on the “photographic map” of the Czech Republic.



The significant documentary photographer Pavel Štecha (1944–2004), also the first leader of the photography studio at UMPRUM in Prague died at age of sixty. ● The Ludicorp company launched Flickr. ● The influential art theorist Karel Císař put together a book anthology of international theoretical texts,  Co je fotografie? (What Is Photography?).  ● The year 2004 only became a year of question marks thanks to the collective exhibition fotografie?? in Klatovy, Western Bohemia. Curators Jan Freiberg and Pavel Vančát proposed a parallel genealogy of Czech art photography, defined against the tendencies prevailing at the time. They followed it through the work of artists who “re-examine the field of photography perceived as more than the documentation of reality and enter into a dialogue with the medium through their work, testing its limits”. To support the lineage of self-reflective photography, partly influenced by the work of Jan Svoboda (1934–1990) but also reflecting the influences of conceptualism and minimalism, they searched for evidence from the 1970s to the turn of the millennium, when a generational group of photographing “non-photographers” entered the Czech scene: Alena Kotzmannová, Michal Kalhous, Lukáš Jasanský, and Martin Polák, as well as Markéta Othová, who was mentioned above. 



The seventy-nine-year-old Miroslav Tichý (1925–2011) received the Discovery Award at the Rencontres dArles international festival. ● The Kunsthaus Zürich also put on a solo show for him. ● Tichý’s “true discoverer” and tireless promoter Roman Buxbaum established the Tichy Ocean Foundation with the aim of “gathering, protecting, and presenting” Tichý’s oeuvre. The unprecedented success of the technically slapdash voyeur from the small Moravian town of Kyjov, signaled a year earlier by the inclusion of his works at the 1st Biennial of Contemporary Art in Seville (curated by Harald Szeemann), turned existing value charts of Czech photography on their head. ● The Prague City Gallery organized a comprehensive exhibition titled Czech Photography of the 20th Century, curated by Vladimír Birgus and Jan Mlčoch.     



Tichý’s works were also exhibited by the House of Arts in Brno. ● The National Gallery in Prague introduced the photographic oeuvre of Běla Kolářová (1923–2010), thus contributing to the broader acceptance of Kolářová’s art (which includes photography and much else besides), which had long remained unjustly shadowed by the work of her husband, the poet and visual artist Jiří Kolář (1914–2002) ● The collective exhibition Fotogenie identity (Photogenics of Identity) was not opened in Prague, planned for the opening of the unopened new spaces of the Prague House of Photography. ● Jan Lukas (1915–2006) died in New York, the last of the greats of Czech pre-war photography. He was ninety-one years old and had lived in the USA since the second half of the 1960s.



For the third Prague Biennale, which had been held in Prague since 2003 thanks to the efforts of Czech native Helena Kontová and her husband Giancarlo Politi from the Italian magazine Flash Art, Vladimír Birgus curated an exhibition titled Glocal Girls: Mladé české a slovenské fotografky (Glocal Girls: Young Czech and Slovak Female Photographers). ● Aleksandra Vajd and Hynek Alt exhibited at the Photomonth in Kraków. ● After a number of stops at exhibition spaces across Bohemia and Moravia, a retrospective of the indisputably most beloved Czech documentary photographer, Jindřich Štreit, arrived in Prague.



Art group Guma Guar’s parody of the campaign to hold the Olympics in Prague made Prague City Hall so angry that the Artwall Gallery’s contract for the use of outdoor exhibition spaces was terminated. Guma Guar used the official slogan of the campaign, We’re all in the national team, replacing the photographs of sportsmen and women with figures who stand for the intermingling of business and politics. It took three years before Artwall could return. ● The uniquely maintained photography studio of Josef and František Seidl, located in a building dating back to 1905, was made available to the public in Český Krumlov, South Bohemia. ● Ivars Gravlejs introduced his alma mater – the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague – in Riga, Latvia. He hung up on the notice boards countless photographs he made, e.g. a series on the main entrance, library shelves, details of available equipment, or the school’s darkrooms. The vitrines were then dedicated to personal memorabilia, e.g. a diploma from the fictional Josef Sudek Award.



Following exhibitions at important museums in Beijing, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Paris, it seemed like a bolt from the blue when Miroslav Tichý terminated his collaboration with Roman Buxbaum. In an official statement, he claimed that his partner had used his photographs without the artist’s consent and “strived only to seize my work and use my work in order to benefit himself”. ● At the Prague Biennale 4, photography achieved autonomy with the first Prague Biennale Photo. Before the demise of the Prague Biennale four years later, the parallel photography biennial took place on two further occasions. ● Towards the end of the year, the public was introduced to the Fotograf Studio, soon established as the Fotograf Gallery.  



Curator Pavel Vančát prepared an exhibition titled Mutující médium (Mutating Medium) for the Rudolfinum Gallery in Prague – the most thorough attempt to date to map the consequences of the gradual transition from analog to digital photography in Czech art. ● The DOST publishing house put out an anthology of texts, Česká fotografie 1938–2000: v recenzích, textech, dokumentech (Czech Photography 1938–2000: Reviews, Texts, Documents) compiled by theorist and photographer Tomáš Pospěch. ● The death of Anna Fárová (1928–2010), historian, curator, and crucial figure in Czech photography. Her lifelong work contributed to the renown of František Drtikol and Josef Sudek. She created a photography collection at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, curated a number of unofficial exhibitions, and also mentored numerous Czech photographers. ● A new application appeared in the App Store: Instagram. Google Play would have to wait almost two more years.



The iOS operation system began supporting the Picaboo app, intended for the sharing of photography and multimedia content. The same year, it was renamed to Snapchat. ● Galerie Langhans ceased its exhibition activities and passed on its premises to the People in Need charity organization. It continues caring, however, for the nine thousand historical negatives from the Ateliér Langhans period that were randomly discovered during the building’s renovation. ● The first Fotograf Festival took place in Prague. It focused on the situation in photography in the 1980s. Since then, the festival has taken place annually.



One of many Polish graduates from the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava, Tomasz Lazar, received the main prize at the International Festival of Photography in Łódź. ● Photographs by another graduate of this school, Roman Vondrouš, received the World Press Photo prize in the Sport category. ● Mark Zuckenberg bought Instagram.



After ten years of operation, the National Museum of Photography in Jindřichův Hradec changed its name to the Museum of Photography and Modern Visual Media. In a country where the term “national” – though problematic – generally refers to the largest, state-operated institutions, the preceding name was a little more than misleading. Photography simply does not have its own “national” museum. ● Curator and historian of photography Vladimír Birgus prepared for the Prague City Gallery an extensive exhibition titled The Intimate Circle in Contemporary Czech Photography. It reflected a return to personal and subjectively perceived themes: “Many photographers have once again stopped being scared of expressing their emotions. They are interested in the spectator’s empathy and do not wish to create purely rational works that are, in the words of the famous American critic Vicki Goldberg, ‘so cold they can save you money on air conditioning’”. ● The same institution also established the House of Photography in the spaces where the Prague House of Photography had aimed to establish itself for years. The Prague City Gallery thus became the first public institution to have at its disposal a representative space intended exclusively for the presentation of photographic art.



The creative duo Hynek Alt and Aleksandra Vajd, along with curator Karina Kottová, prepared a collective exhibition, About the Chair, for the International Biennial Of Photography And Visual Arts in Liège, Belgium. Referencing the iconic conceptual work by Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, and a piece by Slovak-Czech artist Ján Mančuška, What Is a Chair, they chose the chair as a key for inviting over thirty Czech artists working with photography. ● The Stone Bell House – one of the Prague City Gallery’s spaces – introduced a retrospective of Slovak photographer Milota Havránková (born 1945), who was also the first woman to graduate from the photography department at FAMU in Prague.



Director Irena Pavlásková’s live-action feature Fotograf enters the cinemas. Inspired by the life of Jan Saudek (born 1935), she introduced this internationally renowned photographer as a libertine, a lover of women, and an irresistible erotomaniac. The cascade of sexist and bohemian stereotypes culminated in the betrayal of his rejected partner, who impoverished the trusting and naive artist. ● The fine arts faculty in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, established a separate photography studio. Artistic education in photography thus became available at all the artistic universities in the country. ● Better late than never, the House of Arts in České Budějovice organized the first Czech solo show of Wolfgang Tillmans.



Adam Holý (1974–2016) died unexpectedly at the age of forty-two, one of the few Czech photographers who managed to operate successfully in both applied and artistic photography. The legendary bon vivant who never stopped being interested in the possibilities of the nude or landscape photography created some of his most impressive series during the final years of his life. ● Czech Television, the national public broadcaster, introduced a thirteen-episode documentary series on contemporary Czech photography titled Česká fotka (Czech Photo). ● The Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences began a five-year research project of uncommon magnitude: Josef Sudek and the Photographic Documentation of Artworks: From a Private Art Archive to the Representation of Cultural Heritage. The aim of Project Sudek was to arrive at a complex processing of the twenty thousand negatives and positives that Božena Sudková donated to the academy following a recommendation from Anna Fárová.



Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris introduced the exhibition Josef Koudelka: La fabrique d’Exils. ● Not even a year after Jiří Poláček (1946–2016) died Jan Malý (1954–2017), the last of three authors responsible for Český člověk (The Czech Person), a monumental portrait collection. They began working on it in 1982 and spent the following decades mapping the informal countenance of the inhabitants of the country. ● Hana Buddeus’s book Zobrazení bez reprodukce (Representation Without Reproduction) is published, focused on the relationships between performance and photography in Czech art of the 1970s. ● The Fotograf Gallery relocated to new spaces. It thus fulfilled the wish of most Czech “off spaces”: not to be stuck away somewhere in the courtyard, but to have a shop window facing the street.



The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and the National Gallery in Prague introduced exhibitions presenting a selection from a generous donation from Josef Koudelka (born 1938) to his country of origin. ● The Columbia Journalism Review reported on the sexual harassment of several female members of Photo Agency VII by its founding member, Antonín Kratochvíl. “I didn’t react at all, because I had come to understand that putting up with that sort of behavior was part of the price I had to pay for, as a young woman, entering a male-dominated industry. And I also didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be seen as, you know, the clichéd hysterical woman complaining about things,” said Anastasia Taylor-Lind as an explanation of how she assessed the situation when Kratochvíl, in the company of other people, suddenly inserted his hand between her buttocks and touched her genitalia. Three-time World Press Photo winner and “photography personality of the year 2014” denied all the accusations, but resigned his membership in the agency shortly after the incident. ● The so-called Kynžvart Daguerreotype, gifted by Louis Daguerre to the Austrian chancellor Metternich in 1839 and now owned by the Czech state, was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme. ● An extensive fire in California consumed the home of Dutch collector Manfred Heiting, destroying photographs, posters, ceramics, and a unique collection of thirty-six thousand photography books, including many precious volumes of Czech origin.



The Czech media noticed that the artist responsible for the most expensive photograph in the world, auctioned for six and a half million dollars, the Australian Peter Lik (virtually unknown in the Czech Republic) is the son of Czech immigrants. ● Libuše Jarcovjáková prepared a cross-sectional exhibition titled Evokativ for Rencontres d’Arles which the British newspaper The Guardian later called the best photography exhibition of the year. The joy of the international acclaim was not even clouded by the fact that the British journalists did not travel to see exhibitions any further than their neighbors over the English Channel.



Fotograf Magazine has not only new graphics but also a new periodicity, now published not twice but three times a year. ● From the spring onwards, most photography in the Czech Republic took place at home, out the window, and in the deserted streets. ● On a global scale, the covid-19 pandemic led to an overall decrease of photographs taken by 21% – from an estimated 1.44 trillion photographs to 1.12 trillion. ● The work of Prague’s paparazzi brought unexpected fruit: one of them captured the Czech minister for health, Roman Prymula, leaving a restaurant without a face mask – a restaurant that, according to the relevant pandemic restrictions, should have been closed. The minister, who had been spending his days urging the inhabitants of the Czech Republic to adhere to the regulations, had to resign his position. ● Thirty-eight years later and now posthumously, one of the most influential Czech photographers, Jan Svoboda, introduced his work at London’s Photographers’ Gallery. ● Vladimír Birgus and Pavel Scheufler’s book Česká fotografie v datech 1839-2019 (Czech Photography in Dates 1839-2019) was published, containing a lot more information than you will find here.



A few weeks before the publication of Post-digital Photography, Filip Láb (1976–2021), one of our most significant photography theorists, died at the age of forty-five. Educated as a photographer, he gradually devoted more and more energy to theory and teaching. Láb published several important books and many essays on the technological and social transformations of contemporary photography. Fotograf Magazine dedicated one issue to his work. ● The mainstream media dedicated most attention to the young, commercially successful photographer Martin Stranka, many of whose works are copies of shots by renowned international photographers such as Gregory Crewdson and Erwin Olaf. ● “The falling sales of our black-and-white photographs stopped around the year 2000 and have been growing in the last five years,” the co-owner of the traditional Czech film manufacturer Foma Bohemia explained when asked about the unexpected interest in analogue photography. After this segment of the market was abandoned by global players such as Kodak or Agfa, Foma Bohemia became number two in sales of black-and-white films, closely following the British Ilford company.



American actor Richard Gere sold his collection of photographs in an auction. The piece sold for the highest price was František Drtikol’s 1926 piece Temné vlny (Dark Waves). At over 352 thousand dollars, it also became the most expensive Czech photograph. ● Google introduced its Imagen software – as yet the most precise method of using text to generate photorealist images. The output of the artificial intelligence running the software, however, was criticized for confirming racist or sexist stereotypes. ● The James Webb Space Telescope began sending its first photographs. In the case of its image of the GLASS-z13 galaxy, it captured light emitted 13.5 billion years ago, i.e. a mere 300 million years after the Big Bang. ● Fotograf celebrates its twentieth anniversary.

Jiří Ptáček