Sunday, May 1, 2011


Czech artist Miroslav Tichý died last month at the age of 84. He lived as a dissident in his country under the Communists and as the town eccentric among his neighbors (both before and after Communism disappeared). Using cameras he made for himself out of cardboard, tin cans and duct tape, Tichý took thousands of black and white photographs in the streets of Kyjov. Usually he would be photographing women, sometimes with their knowledge, often without it.

Though mainly active as a photographer from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, Tichý made no effort to exhibit. Nothing was seen by the art public until 2004. An admirer organized that first show. Tichý became an instant celebrity in the rich little world of international photography, a role he hated in just the same way he had hated socialist realism fifty years earlier. He went to the grave renouncing the people who built his reputation and who now maintain his official (or official-looking) site.

All photos here, as well as the quotes, are from the exhibition catalog issued last year by the International Center of Photography in New York, co-published with Steidl, who rendered the images with great success on a hefty, semi-gloss paper stock.

"And Tichý repeatedly emphasized both his casual attitude toward the medium of photography and the precision with which he approached and insisted upon crude materials and techniques. Whether this was in intentional rebellion against the routinized Soviet culture program or merely a pragmatic application of the limited artistic tools at hand, Tichý sought to make "bad" pictures."

"At some point, Tichý turned away from the work of genius and the value of fame to pursue, as an amateur, a model of art that had no rules. In photography, the form of the amateur is the snapshot. Such nonprofessional photographs are rarely taken seriously ... What links these pictures to snapshot photography is both the offhanded formal quality and the relentless return to familiar subjects and places. "

"The highly subjective manner in which Tichý collected and classified his images and the way those topics were repeated and refined links his otherwise eccentric production to the archival impulse underlying all amateur photography. In family photographs, for example, birthdays, holidays, and vacations are recorded with a regularity that borders on compulsion."

"We celebrate and idealize (as well as romanticize) the singularity of Tichý his apparent Franciscan nature, the possibility that we are not always and necessarily subjects of statistics and marketing, and that a "hidden" practice can exist in the world, even in an age of surveillance and Google Earth and that subjectivity can have a strong form of agency that is not directed toward productivity."

"The sensuality and materiality, the arte povera quality, the sense of continuous failure and celebration of that failure, and the overt manipulation of texture in Tichý's works bring to mind the textured and rough surfaces of William Kentridge's drawings in which the erasure and successive redrawing celebrates an endless excavation ..."