Saturday, July 28, 2007

Miroslav Tichy by DuMont Literatur

Starting in 1948, Miroslav Tichy’s life seems to have been comprised of many personal protests. He rebelled against the changes brought about by Communism in the late 1940’s and was forced to leave the art academy in Prague where he was studying painting and drawing. As a result, he did all he could to drop out of society. He stopped working and spent most of his time wandering the city parks. He neglected his appearance. He would wear the same clothing for weeks and repair it with wire. He grew his hair and beard long. He was the opposite of the image of the new Socialist man being championed by the new government.

Through the 50’s and 60’s he paid a high price for his dissidence by being forced to spend eight years in prisons and psychiatric clinics. He suffered many incidents of repression afterwards including being forcefully evicted from his attic studio in 1972 and subsequently having his artwork thrown into the streets.

His rebellious streak seems to have carried over into his photography which he started in the 1960’s. He avoided anything that smacked of ‘correctness.’ His is a practice of photography, at least technically, would be considered 180 degrees from the procedures Ansel Adams was laying out in his technical book series of the late 40’s and early 50’s.

Using handcrafted cameras that were an assemblage of cigarette boxes and paper tubes with lenses from eyeglasses, his lo-fi equipment seemed to mock the technological progress the world was experiencing with flights into space and nuclear warfare capabilities.

With his homemade materials, he photographed the women of his town of Kyjov. These are images that were made mostly surreptitiously of women in the streets or sun bathing at the local pool. Some are aware of his presence and others are not. His photographs highlight their bodies and are not shy about revealing his interest in their sexuality. The abundance of cleavage and thighs in his images attests to that. The extreme soft focus from his handcrafted lenses makes some of his clothed subjects look nude. It might all seem a bit creepy if these were clear and crisp descriptions but his equipment distorts and reduces the images down to a simpler form.

Comparison has been made to Garry Winogrand and his obsessive habit of photographing women. For both, the hemline of short skirts is often their focus of attention and they seem to have perfected their timing to snapping the shutter when the bottom of a skirt falls highest on the leg while mid-stride.

These are lusty pictures, but they are not reduced to the lowest common denominator. They are lusty in the same way that Matisse and Picasso reveal in their descriptions of bodies.

With seeing Tichy it is impossible to ignore his process of creating images which extends far beyond the usual. He takes pencil to the image to finish off lines obscured by the uneven chemical development or outfits them with frames of colored paper and cardboard. The final stage of finishing, which is entirely non-photographic, seems to be the most important in creating the Tichy patina. The prints are left for years to be slept on, sat on, rained on, and in some cases, chewed by rodents. Or they are simply ignored and discarded into a pile to collect dust. There seems to be a metaphor at work. No matter the aging or deterioration of the photo paper, the sense of that initial response to beauty remains unblemished.

Tichy has just come into the public view and at 79 had his first solo exhibition at the Seville Biennial in 2004. In 2005, the Kunshaus in Zurich exhibited his work and DuMont Literatur published a hardcover catalog. Miroslav Tichy includes 106 works by Tichy and an essay by Tobia Bezzola and another by Roman Buxbaum. Buxbaum is the son of one of the psychiatrists that treated Tichy during his stays at the psychiatric clinic in Opava.

The book is well done aside from its neon pink spine, backcover and endpapers. The reproductions are fine. This title is out of print and rather expensive when found. At the end of this year Hatje Cantz has announced that they releasing a monograph of Tichy in December.

There was also a small book issued in the FotoTorst series of Czech photographers but like to Photo Poche series, they are nice but a bit too understated in trim size to serve the work well.

It isn’t often that discoveries like Tichy happen, especially when the artist was doing their best to keep themselves a secret. Luckily he has been flushed out of his hiding space so we can discover what he was leaving for the dust and mice to claim.

Special thanks to Bernard Yenelouis for bringing Miroslav Tichy to my attention.

Book Available Here (Miroslav Tichy Kunsthaus)

Book Available Here (Miroslav Tichy Hatje Cantz)