Fotograf Magazine

To See the Statue Means to Create it Again

The book Svoboda + Palcr: To See Statues was published on the occasion of the exhibition in the Gallery of Fine Arts in Cheb, which focused on close cooperation between two important Czech artists. Jan Svoboda, a photographer with the vision of a painter, captured elemental shapes of sculptures by Zdeněk Palcr mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. While the book presents only reproductions of Svoboda’s photographs without the possibility to really see Palcr’s statues, it is not only an exhibition catalogue. It includes several studies elaborating on the basic question of whether the statue became a motif for photographic composition, or whether the photographer served the sculptor by documenting his work.

The most comprehensive study was written by the exhibition curator Katarína Mašterová, who looks at the topic from different angles. First, photography becomes a self-confident medium that incorporates the sculpture into an individually seen still-life or narrative. Then, the photographs present a common object seen as an “involuntary sculpture”. To See Statues may also mean to create them from something that wasn’t sculpture before. However, Svoboda’s vision of Palcr’s statues is a kind of understanding, based on the internal harmony of the two authors. Mašterová highlights the role of light that she sees as an essential element for both the artists. Palcr perceived the statue as “embodied presence of the spiritual world”, and browsing the pages of the book, we can see that Svoboda used the lighting conditions to dematerialize and reduce the statues to their edge and to transform their “reading”. 

The theory of sculptures, developed by Palcr in his complex texts, is mentioned in the book several times. Mašterová uses the theory to compare Palcr to Stanislav Kolíbal and to develop the core topics such as the “standing” of the sculptures and the work with light. The question whether the theoretical considerations of the nature of the statue influenced Svoboda and Palcr’s cooperation and somehow shaped Svoboda’s understanding of sculpture, is, however, never explicitly answered; the reader can only guess from the scattered notes. Nevertheless, Maštěrová’s study is very useful because it examines the representation of art in photography and it is based on the author’s long-term interest in the issue. It is also very appropriately accompanied with memoirs of art historian Jaromír Zemina, who was a close friend of both the artists, which present an intimate view of Jan Svoboda and his nonconformist approach to documentary photography. The book also includes texts by Iva Mladičová and Vladimíra Koubová-Eidernová, who makes the readers contemplate on the quiet being of Palcr’s sculptures. Although the texts have not been further synthesized, they give us a complete picture of the cooperation between the sculptor and the photographer. They examine the dialogue between the surface and the space where the roles of the discoverer and the commentator, originality and interpretation, a hint and explanation remain free.


Svoboda, Jan, Mašterová, Katarína, ed. Svoboda + Palcr: Vidět sochy (Svoboda + Palcr: To See Statues). Prague: Artefactum – Ústav dějin umění AV ČR, 2019. ISBN 978-80-88283-22-5

Tereza Havelková