I recently read a book about Miroslav Tichý, a painter and photographer born in Moravia in 1929 who constantly refused to conform to the Communist regime’s conventions, which were dictated also through a drastic change in professors at the Prague Academy of Arts where he was studying. The brutality of the regime and his personal crisis overlapped, which led him to leave the Academy and eventually to withdraw to a life of isolation in his hometown. His paintings and drawings – almost always portraits and figures of women – mainly belong to pre-war Modern art.
He began photographing in the 1960s and the fascinating thing about his photographs – well, only one of the many fascinating things about them – is that he realized them with self-made equipment from materials he found in his garden and around his home. He saw this as a demostration of independence. He also built his dark room equipment entirely by himself and the same of course applies to the framing and matting of his final results, which became final results sometimes years and years after they were taken.
His photographic work is not all accounted for, but the photographs in the book and in the exhibitions (to which he did not participate), are a beautiful and inspiring set of pictures of all sizes, some overexposed, some underexposed, some ruined, but all fascinating. The subjects are almost always women. Tichý studied the female body, though he remained very distant from his subjects, almost as if he were still at the Academy where he painted and drew from posing models.
I was stuck by the beauty and the sophistication of the work, even though he probably was not looking for a sophisticated result himself. Whereas he was precise with the building of his cameras and equipment, he praised luck. “Everything is about luck”, he said, and how one can extract beauty from a mistake.
He did not take himself too seriously and that is by itself something one should praise.
I went through this book like a child discovering a world that I knew existed somewhere, corresponding to my deepest thirst for raw emotions. I don’t know how much Tichý would have agreed to this celebration, as he did’t want to belong to any auto-referential circle of the so-called artists. But he was one, an artist of life and thought. And a great photographer.
His photographs are a window into his life, almost obsessively kept out of the conventions and the so-called normality.
Because of the political circumstances, Tichý’s work is all more important. Under a brutal regime, Tichý was deprived of the possibility to work, arrested and imprisoned several times for no reason, but he keept his mind free, isolated from the rest of the world and through his suffering, gave light to a body of work that is essential, especially in our today’s society.