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Czech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918--1948 [Hardcover]

Karel Kerlicky
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 21 2002

Not until the fall of the communist regime in 1989 and the end of Czechoslovakia's cultural isolation did the world begin to appreciate the Czech avant-garde photographers of the first half of the twentieth century. This first survey of Czech avant-garde photography introduces the important work of František Drtikol, Jaromir Funke, Jaroslav Rössler, Jindøich Štyrský, Josef Sudek, and numerous others whose work made Czech photography synonymous with visions of modernity. The essays introduce the period and explore the background and connections among the photographers. Biographical profiles are also included. But the book's main attraction is its outstanding collection of duotone and color images, many published here for the first time. The Czech edition of this book received the "Best Photographic Publication of 1999-2000" award from Primavera Fotográfica in Barcelona and from Month of Photography in Bratislava and was one of six finalists for the 2001 Kraszna-Krausz Photography Book Award.Not for sale in the Czech Republic


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From Library Journal

Beginning in the 1920s, art photographers of Eastern Europe were influenced by such avant-garde movements as Constructivism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. These artists were especially interested in experimentation, using new forms of photo-based image making, including photograms, collage, photomontage, and abstraction. In turn, they used this new visual language to communicate political ideology to the masses, helping to make photography a powerful means of expression. The avant-garde photography movement has been well documented with one exception: Czechoslovakia. Because Czechoslovakia was culturally isolated until the fall of its Communist regime in 1989, the work of many Czech avant-garde photographers has been omitted from most history texts. Edited by Birgus (Academy of Performing Arts, Prague), this volume offers the first comprehensive survey of early Czech avant-garde photography, helping to acknowledge the underrecognized artists who contributed to the avant-garde tradition. Beautifully illustrated with more than 300 duotone and color images, the book also includes art and artist chronologies, biographies, a bibliography, and an index. Given the award for Best Photographic Publication of 1999-2000 at the International Festival Primavera Fotogr fica in Barcelona, this book is recommended for all art and photography collections.
Shauna Frischkorn, Millersville Univ., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"...a stunning book whose images abduct the reader into a world most of us only see in dreams." Evan Rail The Prague Post



"A wonderful collection of images that will be unfamiliar to most readers. Highly recommended." Christian Perring, Ph.D. Metapsychology



"An unbelievable collection from some of the best relatively unknown photographers of the early avant-garde." Taylor Holland The Austin Chronicle



"Now translated into English, this important book...expands our knowledge of the history of photography of this critical period." B&W Magazine



"..one cannot but be startled by the depth and importance of the Czech tradition." Mark Pohlad History of Photography



"The scholarship of the six contributors is formidable and will not soon be superseded." Alan G. Artner Chicago Tribune



"...this book reveals the body of work that paved the way for later Czech photographers." Mark Wojahn Rain Taxi



"This remarkable collection will repay hours of study and belongs in the library of anyone who seriously studies modern photography." Choice Magazine



"This remarkable collection...belongs in the library of anyone who seriously studies modern photography." J.M. Curtis Choice Magazine


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This landmark survey of Czech avant-garde photography is the first time we have seen how Central European experimentalists found the same mainstreams and explored many of the same byways as did their American and European cohorts. And yet, as the images in this book testify, almost every shot has a quality distinctive enough to be called Czech.
Czech photographers had a vision of modernity that resembled Bauhaus in its desire for a major houseclean of old forms, but avoided the Bauhaus's smothering insistence on theory first and reality later. The Czech vision was really many visions. We see aesthetic old friends here: pictorialism, picture poems, abstraction and its quasi-abstract variant called nonfiguration, social journalism, surrealism-and a home-grown movement named Poetism.
The text is an anthology of essays. They have a elbowy reach as they knock into each other introducing the period and movements; exploring the background of the photographers and their mutual influences on each other; and much more.
Photography came to Czechoslovakia well after film had been put onto rolls. They could spend their spare time thinking. It is tempting to compare the Czech efforts with the boundary-pushing experiments of North American and Western European photographers in the Twenties and Thirties. They were, after all, conducted almost simultaneously. Yet there is a clear difference in technique between images by Paul Strand, Minor White, Ansel Adams, and Edward Steichen, and their Czech counterparts named Jeromir Funke, Jindrich Styrsky, and Drahomir Ruzicka. The difference is largely due to the Czechs being essentially untrained, unlettered hobbyists with very little aesthetic theory to distract them, and therefore an ability to see objects and scenes on their own terms.
It shows.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem for Serious Photography and Art Lovers Oct. 17 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
First published as "Ceska fotograficka avantgarda 1918-1948," this book shows how great the photographers of Czechoslovakia of the first half of the 20th century were. They did not have digital techniques, but nevertheless produced wonderful art (as suggested by the original title of the exhibition, "Modern Beauty: Czech Photographic Avant-Garde 1918-1948"). I had heard of Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromir Funke, and Josef Sudek, but I had never seen a good sampling of their images before reading this book. New to me were artists such as Jindrich Heisler, Jaroslav Rossler, Karel Teige, and Eugen Wiskovsky. The authors must have carefully chosen the photographs published in the book from collections in Prague and elsewhere. Most of the photos are in black and white, but some are in color, and all are well reproduced. The text is illuminating, with discussion of the relationship of the Czech photographers' work to that of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Rodchenko, Man Ray, and other contemporaries. The chapters on "optical words," "hidden sources" (e.g., collages), and surrealism were the most interesting to me. Toward the back of the book, the chronologies, biographies, bibliography, and index are useful for future reference. I hope you purchase it!
Was this review helpful to you?
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for photography and cultural historians Nov. 1 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This landmark survey of Czech avant-garde photography is the first time we have seen how Central European experimentalists found the same mainstreams and explored many of the same byways as did their American and European cohorts. And yet, as the images in this book testify, almost every shot has a quality distinctive enough to be called Czech.
Czech photographers had a vision of modernity that resembled Bauhaus in its desire for a major houseclean of old forms, but avoided the Bauhaus's smothering insistence on theory first and reality later. The Czech vision was really many visions. We see aesthetic old friends here: pictorialism, picture poems, abstraction and its quasi-abstract variant called nonfiguration, social journalism, surrealism-and a home-grown movement named Poetism.
The text is an anthology of essays. They have a elbowy reach as they knock into each other introducing the period and movements; exploring the background of the photographers and their mutual influences on each other; and much more.
Photography came to Czechoslovakia well after film had been put onto rolls. They could spend their spare time thinking. It is tempting to compare the Czech efforts with the boundary-pushing experiments of North American and Western European photographers in the Twenties and Thirties. They were, after all, conducted almost simultaneously. Yet there is a clear difference in technique between images by Paul Strand, Minor White, Ansel Adams, and Edward Steichen, and their Czech counterparts named Jeromir Funke, Jindrich Styrsky, and Drahomir Ruzicka. The difference is largely due to the Czechs being essentially untrained, unlettered hobbyists with very little aesthetic theory to distract them, and therefore an ability to see objects and scenes on their own terms.
It shows.
Take some of the high-angle panoramic portraits of cafe terraces and outdoor restaurants of Josef Ehm, Jan Lauschmann, Arnost Pickart, and Eugen Wiskovsky. They resemble the overhead shots of Atget and Cartier-Bresson. The big difference is that Cartier-Bresson was consciously seeing a "decisive moment" to push the shutter, while the Czechs seem more preoccupied with panorama in and of itself. For example, there are almost no humans in the pictures; unoccupied cafe tables march off in rows like stamped-metal plates on a production line. From the flat, even light one knows the skies were overcast. Did the photographers go there on such days because they sought a scene without life? If so or even if not, they succeeded.
This same sense of dyspersonalization also occurs with the nudes. If ever there was a case for elan as a series of curves, the nude is it. Yet the nudes of Frantisek Drtikol are so embedded in (and mostly behind) angularities and factory-hewn curves that the figures come off as union-shop amazons fresh from the factory floor. While the text assigns terms to the various classes of imagery-Constructivism, Futurism, Functionalism, and the like-the impact on the eye is rather different: of all the catchalls one can apply to remove being from reality, industrial photography is as cold and correct as a calculus solution.
The rather smallish amount of commercial photography presented likewise is unremarkable, even the page layouts trying to be with-it in an era when Art Deco dominated almost everything a few longitudes to the west. This surprises, because the American experimentalist Man Ray, living in Paris, was a formidable esprit de l'oeil to Jaroslav Rossler and others. Ray's was is the most energizing foreign influence on Czech photo imagination of the time.
All this took an abrupt swerve when Surrealism arrived. Photographers such as Jindrich Styrzsky, Hugo Taborsky, Frantisek Vobecky, and Bohumil Nemec spared us Western Europe's metaphysics of dripping clocks and life-vacated forms to concentrate on a more local product: the magical encounters to be found on a human visage. With surrealism the Czechs utterly reversed themselves. A human-seed sensibility blossomed into a broad meadow whose subtext was poetry, imagination, creativity, and the inner model. Literature was as much a part of photography as photograph was of literature, just as complexity, too, contains its own antonym. The term "Surrealism" as defined in Paris didn't quite fit this heady mix, so it was aptly called Poetism by the locals. Antonin Dufek's chapter on the subject is arguably the most stimulating in the book.
The most striking images in the book are Surrealist. In Jeroslav Rössler's "Untitled, 1931" on page 117 (and the cover jacket), a woman's face fills the frame, tilted at 45 degrees as she looks the lens in the eye. The pictorial strength may come from her thin line of almost black lipstick and one eye encircled by a black ring, but the psychic strength comes from the translucent panes before her that divide the image into portions of clarity and bad focus. What we see isn't a reality, it is a focusscape.
The book is as complete a view as we can find of the entire Czech world between the White Carpathians and the mountain rim that barriers off Czechoslovakia from the rest of Europe. Photographers had a great old time in the years between the arrival of democracy with Jan Masaryk's government in 1918 and its end with Hitler's invasion in 1938. An astonishing number of them were hobbyists with little interest in what today would be called a career path. It is quite something to watch them trying the same experiments and making the same mistakes-finding their own metier like good artists should-with results quite different that events further westward.
They defined aesthetics, possibilities, and learned the limits of their medium. But much more. They ventured well beyond the typical hobbyist's preoccupation with technique and equipment. Their great contribution was essentially the same as that of Atget and Bressai: a vivid glimpse into the realities of their part of the world-Westernized Slavs-which no one had paid much attention to. It turned out that society and commonplaces were more relevant to them than theory and manifesto.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem for Serious Photography and Art Lovers Oct. 17 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First published as "Ceska fotograficka avantgarda 1918-1948," this book shows how great the photographers of Czechoslovakia of the first half of the 20th century were. They did not have digital techniques, but nevertheless produced wonderful art (as suggested by the original title of the exhibition, "Modern Beauty: Czech Photographic Avant-Garde 1918-1948"). I had heard of Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromir Funke, and Josef Sudek, but I had never seen a good sampling of their images before reading this book. New to me were artists such as Jindrich Heisler, Jaroslav Rossler, Karel Teige, and Eugen Wiskovsky. The authors must have carefully chosen the photographs published in the book from collections in Prague and elsewhere. Most of the photos are in black and white, but some are in color, and all are well reproduced. The text is illuminating, with discussion of the relationship of the Czech photographers' work to that of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Rodchenko, Man Ray, and other contemporaries. The chapters on "optical words," "hidden sources" (e.g., collages), and surrealism were the most interesting to me. Toward the back of the book, the chronologies, biographies, bibliography, and index are useful for future reference. I hope you purchase it!
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