‘So, what’s going on in Prague?‘: in my travels I am often asked about the state of Czech photography. Czech (or Czechoslovak) photography has always had a ’sound’ to it, but lately this sound is often not combined with any actual clear image. Viewed from the outside, photography in the Czech Republic is a little bit “under the radar”. With the exception of aficionados, curators or writers who specialize in East European photography, many cannot recall much beyond the classics of the past. This would include Sudek, Funke, Drtikol, or the documentary (and living – often elsewhere) ones, such as Koudelka, Kratochvil, Kolar, Streit and Luskacova. With a bit of luck, the middle generation of Czech or Slovac photographers will ring a bell: Tono Stano, Vaclav Pinkava, Pavel Banka or Veronika Bromova (the first lady of the Czech digitally manipulated feministic photography of the 90’s).
Paris Photo 2010 presented several Czech subjects. The new Leica Gallery stand showed some of the best known Czech photographers. Publishers KANT and TORST shared a stand and showcased some of the most interesting names in the Czech contemporary and historical photography, including the newly published and beautifully presented Czech Photography of the 20th Century by Vladimir Birgus and Jan Mlcoch (KANT, ISBN: 978-80-7437-027-4). In the HCSB East Side Story exhibition in Paris last November the only Czech connection was the Prague-based Croatian Stanko Abadzic, with his staged classic documentary images of Prague. And the winner of Czech Press Photo 2010 (www.czechpressphoto.cz) is actually a Slovak, Martin Bandzak.
Although Czech photographers are not really much out there and questions about the slow and unfortunate death (and the possible revival) of the former Prague House of Photography are sometimes raised, Czech photography is stronger and more vibrant then ever before. The up and coming generation – mainly the graduates from one of the several Art or Photography Schools (such as the Institute of Creative Photography, FAMU or AVU) – are beginning to be internationally recognized. For example, Tereza Vlckova and Zurkovi were chosen to be part of reGeneration2, curated by William Ewing and Natalie Herschdorfer in Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. Together with Katerina Drzkova, Michael Seba, Jiri Thyn, Ondrej Pribyl and Aleksandra Vajd & Hynek Alt , they are part of this promising new group of talented Czech photographers. Half a generation back we find a strong subjective documentary photographers (in Czech Republic, the division between “art” and “documentary” photography is unfortunately still strongly perceived), many of whom are also curators, writers or organizers of photography events themselves. Two examples are Tomas Pospech, independent curator (Month of Photography in Bratislava, Lodz and Krakow), art critique and teacher and photographer of poetic “small sceneries” from everyday Czech life. Evzen Sobek from Brno, the second largest city in Czech Republic (and forever in Prague’s shadow) founded the Brno Photography School and the Fotoframe competition. His Life in Blue will soon be published by Kehrer Publishing in Germany. There is another group within the same generation who mostly work in black and white. These ’new poetic’ documentary photographers include Vojtech Slama, Igor Malijevsky and Fano.
The light is bright in the world of new photography institutions and museums that have sprung up in Prague over recent years: The former Prague House of Photography is being revived under a new name House of Photography as part of the successful GMPH (the City Gallery of Prague), one of the most dynamic art institutions in the Czech Republic (www.ghmp.cz). Tomas Pospech, the future main curator of the House of Photography remains optimistic, hoping for a summer 2011 opening. The partnership with GMPH is great news for the House of Photography; the City Gallery boasts excellent curators and ambitious programs. Its current exhibition, Faces of Truth, runs until March 6 and is another good reason to visit Prague. This curatorial effort of Olga Mala shows the work of famous and often misinterpreted artist Miroslav Tichy from a new and genuine perspective. The exhibition was put together from collections of Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Julio Susin, Maxim Fedorowsky a George Philippe Pezold and it presents Tichy’s work as authentic testimony of its time, focusing less on strictly erotic images and showing the photographers work in larger perspective. It is exciting to see Tichy’s work in the country of its origin, where it is probably most understood.
The Langhans Gallery (originally opened in 1880 as a prestigious photography studio) has long been presenting contemporary as well as historical photography with Czech and international curators. Their new “house curator” Walter Keller formerly with Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland and former Scalo Publishers will start with exhibition C Action Photo Virus – photographs of a dozen emerging international photographers on the walls, and more than 3000 printed pages about the worldwide photo scene in ten big books to view and read. This exhibition might be another good reasons to visit Prague this spring 30. 3. – 15. 5. 2011 (www.langhansgalerie.cz).
Rudolfinum Gallery is probably one of the best and most prestigious institutions presenting international photography in the Czech Republic. Its brilliant director of 17 years, Petr Nedoma, keeps introducing important contemporary Western and Asian photographers as well as showcasing Czech artists. Their upcoming exhibition Mutating Medium is an effort of ambitious Czech curator Pavel Vancat and will try to answer the question what exactly happened with “photography” as art in the last 20 years. The exhibition promises not to focus on investigating all of the surviving genres of photography, but “rather on the appearance of all of its new mutations which often exceed its present borders”. If you want to see what’s happening in certain parts of Czech photography go and visit. The usual suspects Pavel Banka, Veronika Bromová, Lukáš Jasanský, Martin Polák and Václav Jirásek as well as some less known photography based artists promise an interesting experience. 10. 2. 2011 – 1. 5. 2011 (www.galerieudolfinum.cz)
One of the most exciting venues of recent times is the independent contemporary art museum DOX (www.doxprague.cz). Opened in a former industrial building of Prague 8, DOX is a labor of love of its charismatic founder, director and self-made man Leos Valka and artistic director Jaroslav Andel, curator formerly based in New York. Focused on hot contemporary art and photography of today (the controversial Entropa of David Cerny was exhibited there right after it shocked the EU Parliament in Brussels), in its short existence DOX has already presented several photographic legends – one of them Martin Parr and his Assorted Cocktails, is opening this week.
Decadence Now! Visions of Excess was by far the largest and most succesful exhibition of the last year, presented in Rudolfinum Gallery and DOX (as well as UPM and 4 other museums in the Czech Republic). The ambitious international project curated by Otto M. Urban worked with the concept of decadence in current art and photography.
Another good reason for a trip to Prague might be the Prague Foto Festival, now in its 4th year (www.praguefoto.cz). Running from April 5 – 10, the event promises to show Czech history (Drtikol, Funke, Sudek, Laushmann, Hackenschmied), Czech presence (Stano, Pinkava, Tichy, Saudek, Gabina, Banka) and the Czech future (Vlckova, Zurkovi, Seba, Cejkova, Mrehout) as well as student shows from 6 Czech and Slovak universities.