Jindrich Streit, a Moravian photographer with a rich history, marked his 60th birthday this week. On the occasion, over 500 friends and admirers came to Prague's Galerie Zdenek Sklenar to wish 'Jindra from Sovinec' well, and to say thank you for the incredible tradition that he started back in 1974.
Jindrich Streit lives in the Rymarovsko region of northern Moravia. To be precise, he calls the tiny village of Sovinec home, and has since 1956, when his parents were resettled there by the communist authorities. It was intended to be a punishment, a life of internal exile, but the Streits were very culturally active and set an example for young Jindrich. He became a schoolteacher, an amateur photographer, and in 1974 he decided to do something amazing: in a village of 17 people, Jindrich Streit started hosting art exhibits that were soon drawing the best of Czechoslovakia's unofficial art world to an otherwise culturally barren corner of the country. Jindrich Streit explains how it all began:
"I started to exhibit the work of artists who were not allowed to exhibit in official galleries at the time. Among them were artists from Prague who exhibited in the United States, but were banned here in Czechoslovakia. Some of the artists included Adriana Simotova, Vaclav Bostik, Cestmir Kafka, the Medeks, and many others. I started with Alena Kucerova and Vladimir Kopecky. I chose the people I valued, those I respected greatly, and I invited them to come to Sovinec to exhibit their work. And gradually, this place became an oasis of underground culture."
'Jindra from Sovinec,' as he became known, printed the invitations and addressed the envelopes by hand, inviting people from all over Czechoslovakia. There were between ten and twelve exhibits every year. Of course such activity also attracted the attention of the communist secret police, and Streit served time in Ruzyne prison for 'defaming the republic and the president.' But Jindrich Streit persisted.
The tradition of art exhibits and gatherings in Sovinec continues and today, Jindrich Streit's own photography is on display in public collections across Europe, the United States, and Japan. He describes his own approach in capturing images:
"I would say that I'm a photographer who focuses on social themes, but my main interest is human relationships. I mostly capture images from the countryside. I'm just not a photographer who walks through a city taking pictures of random people. I'm a photographer who needs to know something about the people, and in turn they know me a little too—so it's a kind of interaction. The subjects of my photographs are relationships between adults, between children, and also the relationship of people to the countryside, to animals. These are themes that offer a window into the environment where I live."
Jindrich Streit celebrated his 60th birthday on September 5.