Jan Svoboda (1934 Bohunovice - 1990 Prag)



melancholy of modernism

Jan Svoboda (1934–1990) became a legend of Czech photography already in his lifetime. Not even fifteen years after his death, this legend has achieved a near-Faustian dimension, which gradually begins to obscure the work of its creator. Svoboda as the first among the disciples of Josef Sudek, Svoboda as the mystical worshipper of light and shadow, Svoboda as a simple, rustic man at the tender mercies of urban life, Svoboda as the only true “artist” among Czech photographers, all these and other affirmations push the artist himself into black and white contours, speaking little of the real scope and importance of his work. Svoboda was probably the most obstinate of Czech photographers. It is a strange and wonderful experience to trace from its beginnings the originality and ferocity with which he embarked on a path entirely his own, along which he logically had to remain faithful to himself alone. “I have no program, that’s the horror of it,” he complained (perhaps with bitter satisfaction) in 1982 in an interview with Liba Taylor. But it was he himself who set his own program, in the form of a search for the autonomy of the photographic image.

Svoboda’s very first works of the late 1950s differ radically from the then ascending trends in artistic photography, confidently embarking on a path of defining the possibilities and limits of the medium of photography. Aside from reverbations of surrealism and symbolism (which influenced Svoboda throughout his life) his rendition of the subject matter in his early works betrays a completely different approach to the reality he portrays. Svoboda here tried to construct the photographic image in a manner similar to how painting liberated itself from the mimetic canon and set out on a Modernist search for the elementary rules of surface and composition. In an effort to achieve maximum degree of autonomy of the photographic image, Svoboda, thanks to fundamental and original formal innovation, reached the very limits of the possible. Due to their sophisticated techniques, his works entirely shook off the principle of being reproduceable and thus became (paradoxically for photography) unique works of art. Their solitary nature was emphasized, Svoboda being unaccustomed in those days to large formats, by a total absence of framing, the use of a solid foundation with a supporting framework, of detaching the works from the surface of the wall. Photographs are thus elevated to the rank of objects that communicate independently with both the exibition space and the atmosphere of the lighting.


Introduction by Pavel Vančát 


Vintage gelatine silver print (semi-glossy).

Verso titled and dated with printer's notations.


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