“Miroslav Tichy” published by International Center of Photography and Steidl

Were Miroslav Tichy’s photographs intended to be the end result or were they just a part of his artistic process? On cursory examination they look like quick sketches one would do as studies for more laborious paintings. The fact that he used his pencil to outline and sketch over the photos suggest that this may have been the case. However, Tichy took far greater pains to acquire these images then necessary if a reference was all that was needed. This book published together with Tichy’s exhibition at the ICP effectively answers this and other questions regarding the enigmatic artist.

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The book contains some thought provoking essays and a poem by Nick Cave called the “Collector” dated 2008. Here’s a quick preview of the essays in the book along with some on my own thoughts:

“What Happens When Nothing Happens” by Brian Wallace

Wallace sees Tichy’s work as a continuation of the surrealist movement in that he was “willing to engage viscerally and critically with the environment, in other words an amateur.” For Wallace Tichy was a flaneur in the tradition of Baudelaire, Benjamin and Breton. Like Breton’s book “Nadja” (which I bought recently in NYC but have yet to read) Tichy regarded the urban space as an erotically charged environment. However, Wallace goes on to conclude that unlike the amateur who strives to make clear and pristine images, Tichy’s photographs are anti-snapshots which are double exposed, blurred, and badly cropped. These photos are focused “on inconsequential details or gestures” and “begin to create a kind of lexicon of everyday communication that is scarcely ever recorded or understood.”

“The Artist With the Bad Camera” by Carolyn Christov-Bakargrev

This essay takes the anti-snapshot argument even further by suggesting that Tichy himself is the camera. Considering he took great pains to fashion and create his own clothing to look like an inconspicuous common laborer. Tichy also used homemade cameras that did not look like they even worked to the casual observer / subject. “So in his daytime derives in the town, his body took photographs: organic, biological photographs each an encounter and impulse toward life, each a moment marking the flow of time like the sand of an hour glass, each “take” proving to himself he was alive.” According to the author of this essay Tichy’s photographs look more “alive because you are aware of their materiality…because there is more space for the viewers’ projections and the activity of interpretation.”

“Velvet Revolution” by Richard Prince

In Prince’s essay, he takes a less formal approach but is more aggressive in asserting Tichy’s quiet revolt against the modernist endeavor and the social-political environment during his time. Prince writes: “What does Tichy believe in? Buttocks and Breasts, that’s my guess. The outline of a bra. And what is in a bra? Heaven, everything that matters. All the rest of it…the highways, the smokestacks, the poured concrete, the public housing…the intermittent electricity, the plumber that never shows up…it can all go away with a girl in a towel in the sun turning over and lifting an unshaved arm. Fuck the Cold War. The reincarnation of Georgia O’Keefe. That’s what we look for.” It is interesting to note that Tichy never had a serious relationship with any women and that his artistic career was interrupted by stints in political prison.

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After this essay by Prince we are presented with Tichy’s photographic body of work. All works are printed at full scale. The numbers next to the photographs are the MT inventory numbers of the works in the catalogue of the Foundation Tichy Ocean. The photos run the whole gamut of posed and unposed portraiture from full body to tight head shots. They are of women of all shapes and sizes and age groups. The photos give the sense that they could have only been taken by someone who is familiar to those in the photos. Who over the years due to his persistent presence became part and parcel of the landscape. Maybe it was the use of his homemade telephoto lenses but even in the up close shots you never get the sense that he is interrupting. The relationship the artist has with his own work is ambiguous since the photos seem to be obsessed over and neglected at the same time. Tichy lovingly and compulsively created and decorated all the frames for his photos by hand. But most if not all of them look to have been discarded at some point. This maybe some what problematic since it calls into question Tichy’s intent. Perhaps it is informative that the publishers chose to include Nick Cave’s poem titled “The Collector” to follow the photographs.

“Miroslav Tichy: Tarzan Retired” by Roman Buxbaum

In this last essay and perhaps the most authoritative, Tichy’s long time friend and psychologist Roman Buxbaum gives us the insider story of the artist’s life. Buxbaum grew up with Tichy and remembers taking photos with a pin hole cameras Tichy taught him to make. We learn from Buxbaum that after the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia, the students at Tichy’s art school were forced to draw workers in overalls instead of the female models they were used to drawing. According to the author Tichy refused to draw the workers. Furthermore, we get details like how Tichy wanted to insure his homemade ragged coat for 100,000 czech crowns which was then the price of a luxury car. Buxbaum interprets these as acts of resistance against the prevailing regime. However Tichy may not have even cared enough to resist as he seemed quite happy going about doing his own thing.

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It seems that after all his toils and tribulations in his life, Tichy was able to find a mode of expression that was unique to him. It was something unforced and came perfectly natural to someone like him living in his times. He no longer had to justify himself or his works to anyone so he could behave and act in accordance to his own will. Tichy was motivated and inspired by the one constant unchanging beauty that was around him: women. And how he saw them is how one would view a beautiful sunset or an idyllic landscape. The experience of this beauty in and of itself was all that Tichy needed and the photographic works were just a bi-product for him. Luckily for us we are able to also experience this beauty through Tichy’s dreamlike yet suprarealistic photographs.

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