Fotograf Magazine

Tomáš Pospěch: An Interview with Vladimír Birgus, Antonín Dufek, and Miro Švolík

Czechoslovak Photography in the West

In the West, the late 1980s and early 1990s also brought a wave of extraordinary interest in Czech and Slovak photography, which never returned. Let us try to find out what it meant. Were we ready for such an interest? Which activities do those who still remember the times recall most? What institutions could help in providing contacts and preparing exhibitions abroad?

At that time, most exhibitions in Western Europe or the USA were retrospectives. They had no concept and they looked back at the 1980s, presenting contemporary Czech and Slovak photography or photographic avant-garde. Exhibitions presenting a perspective of foreign curators were another story, although their approach had been formed by those who introduced them to the scene. The exhibitions were important for the assessment of the Czechoslovak scene and long-term promotion of local photography in the coming years. Last, but not least, they brought satisfaction to photographers who worked in socialist Czechoslovakia. Some of them managed to gain momentum, meet festival directors, curators and collectors, have solo exhibitions, or teach abroad. 

Until then, Czechoslovak photography had been collected only by the Moravian Gallery in Brno (since 1962) and the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague (since 1970). Aside from the activities of Antonín Dufek from the Moravian Gallery, there was no institution or gallery that photographers could rely on. The exhibitions abroad were prepared with enthusiasm, no funding, and a little help from the represented authors. Some photographers, such as Vladimír Birgus and Miroslav Vojtěchovský, relied on the Department of Photography at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague  where they worked, although the Academy had primarily a different mission. 

A tour of ten photographers to the United States after the Velvet Revolution was enthusiastically described in an article by Pavel Štecha for Československá fotografie magazine and in the interview with Martin Matějů published in the next issue of the magazine.1 Both informed about the journey to the FotoFest in Houston in 1990, i.e. the exhibition of Czech and Slovak photography, Choice 19. Perspectives – Real and Imaginary, prepared by Weny Watriss and Frederick Baldwin. In his article, Štecha introduced the FotoFest, its atmosphere, and the genesis of the Czech exhibition. “Given the events in [Czechoslovakia] and all over Eastern Europe, we were in the spotlight. Moreover, we were the most numerous group and President Havel was going to America at that time, and people actually might have also liked the exhibition. (…) In fact, they were stopping by and congratulating us all the time, and to top it all, the New York Times published a very positive review. At the same time, Life published a number of photographs of the [Velvet Revolution] events in November. Some of us were interviewed on American television, and later on the radio…”

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#34 archaeology of euphoria

#34 archaeology of euphoria


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