CZECH VISION presents the fascinating spectrum of Czech avant-garde photography in an exclusive collection of photographs by well-known and yet to be discovered Czech photographers working in the period between World War I and the start of the communist regime in 1948. The exhibition and the catalogue with the same title bring to light an aspect of photo history that until now has not received its just recognition.
The emancipation of the Czech Republic from Hapsburg Austria at the turn of the 20th century had a noticeable effect on the arts, including freeing itself from the provincialism of nationalistic themes, and sentimental romanticism became a thing of the past. Prague advanced as the second hotbed of cubism and surrealism after Paris.
Czechoslovakia was a melting pot; Czechs lived alongside Slovakians and Germans, Hungarians and Poles. The newly evolving avant-garde photography was very open to international influences. Artists were intrigued with Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). The Bauhaus photographic style was reflected in the use of clever framing, diagonal compositions, views from above and below, and in the use of photograms. László Moholy-Nagy gave lectures in the Czech Republic; avant-garde journals printed images by Albert Renger-Patzsch and Aenne Biermann as well as works by Alexander Rodchenko and other Soviet Constructivists. The French influence was reflected in the enthusiastic reception of works by Eugène Atget and Man Ray. Czech photography absorbed and filtered these influences, contemplated and transformed them, allowing its practitioners to create a unique visual language that reflected the modernist ideals of the time. There is something about Czech photography that distinguishes it from all other intentional styles and movements: a hidden strength, a poetry verging on darkness, a respect for formal austerity, and the exceptional beauty of what are, in the end, common themes and objects.
The works showcased in CZECH VISION illustrate the creative quality of the Czech avant-garde, one of the most important and original branches of 20th century European art. Some of its biggest names continue to have a strong impact today including František Drtikol (1883-1961), Jaromír Funke (1886-1945), Josef Sudek (1896 –1976) und Jaroslav Rössler (1902-1990).
To accompany the exhibition, the Hatje Cantz publishing house issued a magnificent book of photographs edited by Howard Greenberg and Annette & Rudolf Kicken, CZECH VISION: Avantgarde Photography in Czechoslovakia. This large format publication is a collection of approximately 200 master works by over 40 photographers.