Fotograf Magazine

The Message of a Forgotten Photographer

The present monograph is not the first to commemorate the legacy of Jindřich Marco (1921–2000), but who today is aware of his fate? This pocket-format book contains less than ninety reproductions, but it is important for the mere fact that it forms the 36th volume of the “encyclopaedia in installments” published by Torst. Immediately after the Second World War, Marco ranked among the most perceptive photojournalists in Europe. Under dramatic circumstances, colourfully recounted in the introduction by Vladimír Birgus, Marco travelled across the continent in order to depict the destruction caused by six years of blood-letting. In the ruins of cities he ran across refugees of unclear destiny, women willing to offer their bodies in exchange for cigarettes, cripples and orphans. When not begging or waiting in a line at soup kitchens, children made do as best they could – for example by performing acrobatic tricks, singing, or engaging in theft, as adults cleared away the ruins of Berlin, Dresden, Warsaw, Budapest… When gust of wind blew through the ravaged cities, clouds of dust drew tears from the eyes of the survivors. Travelling from one country to another, passengers as often as not rode on the roofs of carriages, in the back of trucks, on horse-drawn carts, or by foot. The longing to return to the good old times is epitomized by a street photographer, covering the ruins of some capital city or other with idyllic scenery designed to lure in customers. 

Marco tackled this solemn subject with a body of work that is far from merely routine reportage. He employs a keen sensibility for the universal and timeless statement. Although we do not learn what exactly the people he photographed thought of regarding their situation, we are at least able to empathize with their predicament. This may perhaps help us cope with the uncertainty regarding whether this cataclysm might not repeat itself. When Marco’s book Bitter Years, Europe 1945–1947 came out in the mid-1990s, critics described it as a memento or a catastrophic parable: once again, there was fighting in Yugoslavia. Perhaps war may not be understood through silent images. However, by showing us the repercussions of violence without showing its causes and motivations, photographers compel us to imagine that which remains unseen. 

Marco’s early photographs remain the most important part of his legacy. Although the book does not end there, nonetheless they form three-quarters of the reproductions. The photographer’s international career was ended prematurely by seven years of slavery in uranium mines, something which was not qualified as unlawful until as late as 1990. His sentence was intended as a warning to his colleagues, for Marco worked for five foreign photo agencies. One of these had published his irreverent shot of Communist leader Klement Gottwald after he had become president of Czechoslovakia.


Josef Moucha


Vladimír Birgus: Jindřich Marco. Prague, Torst 2011.