© Roman Buxbaum
There was a time when artist and photographer Miroslav Tichy could safely predict his next arrest. Despite the relaxation of some of the more repressive measures used against dissident Czechs in the second half of the 1960’s, he would be routinely incarcerated in the days leading up to official Communist holidays and May Day. Sometimes he was taken to the clinic; on other occasions to the prison. Cleaned up, scrubbed down, and dressed in the fresh clothes that his mother always provided, he would be released once the authorities deemed the risk of public disturbance had passed.
“The police once forgot to pick me up on May Day. I already had my little suitcase packed and was waiting for them to come and take me to the insane asylum. I waited and waited but they didn’t come. I then got tired of waiting, left the house and went out onto the square. There were red flags everywhere, women in traditional folk costume; Pioneers were marching four abreast in the street […] everyone saw me. About two minutes passed before suddenly my policemen were standing beside me. And I was soon on the way to the insane asylum…”
Tichy trained as a painter but turned to photography in the 1960’s, producing most of the work for which he is now known in the following two decades. Using the most basic equipment he repeatedly took pictures of the local women on the streets of his home town Kyjov. Though his first exhibition was in 1956, his second did not occur until almost fifty years later at the Seville Biennial in 2004. Since then he has been the subject of shows – none of which he has ever visited – at Rencontres D’Arles, the Zurich Kunsthaus, the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art, and most recently, the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Tichy – a superbly designed new collection of photographs and essays edited by former next-door neighbour and ardent proselytiser Roman Buxbaum – offers a fascinating presentation of man and work.
© Miroslav Tichy
A typical photograph might look something like this: a woman is photographed in a seemingly casual or arbitrary manner in a nondescript urban setting, perhaps in a street or park. Where details can be discerned, we might assume that she is in her twenties or thirties, that the picture is made in summer or spring, and that its subject is exposing bare flesh. Often – though by no means always – the picture appears to have been made without the subject’s awareness or consent, an impression compounded by the careless use of some kind of telephoto lens. The lens alone though cannot account for the often atrocious image quality – blurred, soft and regularly overexposed.
Miroslav Tichy’s Camera No.1 © Roman Buxbaum
Tichy’s wilful rejection of conventional standards of competence gathers pace in the darkroom where he apparently operates only the most basic editing criteria – “I didn’t choose anything. I looked under the enlarger, and whatever seemed like the world to me, I printed.” Given that his enlarger (like the telephoto lens) is a largely homemade affair, cobbled together from tin cans, fence slats, sheet metal and plywood, it is perhaps not surprising that the results resemble the most abject test prints.
Still not satisfied, the man dubbed the “Stone Age photographer” introduces a battery of post-production techniques that include sitting and sleeping on the pictures; drawing on them; folding and cutting them; and leaving them – inadequately fixed of course – to the ravages of dust, rodents and time.
© Miroslav Tichy
The supreme irony is that such “techniques”, and the affront they present to photographic decorum, have helped secure the artistic status of the work: not only in the sense that the pictures’ laboured surfaces guarantee the presence of Tichy’s hand, and each print’s uniqueness. But also, to the extent that the visible scratches, fingerprints, sprocket holes, stains and creases partially obscure the image beneath, they serve to veil more disturbing, less aesthetic, considerations – of prurience and voyeurism.
Tichy – edited by Roman Buxbaum
Texts by Harald Szeeman, Roman Buxbaum, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Clint Burnham, and Marc Lenot
Publ: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig