The Czech Photo Gallery at Prague’s Újezd this week launched the first in a series of “Best of” exhibitions beginning with the Nude. Curators for the opening show chose work by five well-known photographers, the late Taras Kuščynskyj, Jan Saudek, Robert Vano, Pavel Brunclík and Antonín Tesař. The nudes range from lyrical and romantic, to erotic and homoerotic, and relatively brutal and decadent.
The show’s assistant curator Veronika Souralová told me more.
“In fact this show should probably be called The Best of Nude 1 because the number of photographers in the Czech Republic renowned for their nudes are many, so there will definitely be follow-ups. As far as this show is concerned, we chose photographers whose styles are varied.
“Daniela Mrazková, who conceived of the exhibition, says – in fact very different – from the classic sensual Kuščynskyj, to the provocative Jan Saudek, to romantic Robert Vano, rational and precise Pavel Brunclík and scandalously decadent Tesař. In her view, each has contributed significantly to Czech photography, each has something to offer.”
The nude, like the medium of photography itself, has changed extensively over the decades, from first efforts in photography that were largely erotic to works today exploring additional facets, not sexuality or sensuality but harsher themes including as fetish, degradation, even death. Veronika Souralová again:
“Nudes today should perhaps be termed simply photography of the naked body because often they are no longer just about aesthetic considerations. In early photography, the nude was largely an interplay of light and shadow, line and form, here and there the curve of the female body which were erotic.
“Of course, times change and today photography of the body is more and more a reaction to daily realities, to aggression, to failed dreams, romance, fear and uncertainty, as well as erotic fantasy. Techniques have changed as well, and we went from carefree romantic images to computer-enhanced photographs which depart strongly from reality, bordering on design.”
Fans of a more classic approach are likely to incline more towards Taras Kuščynskyj who had an enormous influence in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s.
“He captured female beauty with psychology and the erotic in his portraits of women. Most of his photos are set in nature and at the time they were produced – during the totalitarian period – they offered a certain hope. There is an element of freedom there and his nudes are still extremely powerful. I am romantic myself so I enjoy his work still; of course others may find it a little old fashioned. It’s to up to visitors to form their own opinion, which is why we are offering work by such different artists.”
One of the photographers in the show bound to provoke a buzz is the aforementioned Antonín Tesař. In the show his work has been hung in a room of its own which organizers jokingly dubbed ‘Room Thirteen’. Viewers begin the show viewing more poetic images but by the time they reach the last are in for a bit of a shock. His work plays on pornography, fetish, religious and mythological imagery, and kitsch, combining the visceral with blatant theatricality. Veronika Souralová didn’t want to give away too much but agreed he was nothing if not provocative.
“In his photographs he flirts with the decadent, with love and death, and with inner views of anxiety and madness. Viewers can find it engaging but in some cases also repulsive. His work is different from classical photography in that they are B&W images that have been hand-painted. He creates tableaux that evoke strong emotions.”
At the show, viewers will also be able to see work by Robert Vano which is either homoerotic or features women in sensual moments, some of Jan Saudek’s best-known prints, and visually-enticing, crisp and naturally beautiful images by Pavel Brunclík –from a series called the Geometry of Nudity which are more formal in nature but flawless, featuring dancers from the National Ballet. Those large-format prints instantly stand out, and it will probably interest many that most of the photographs at this exhibition can be bought. Veronika Souralová again:
“Viewers who have seen the show so far reacted positively and there were some reactions such as ‘I’d like to have that in my living room’. And of course, in most cases they can. Only a few of the prints are from private collections. Anyone interested can purchase a photo from between 30,000 and 100,000 crowns.”
You can find more information about the Best of Nude at www.czechphotogallery.cz