I am not a photographer…

In 1982 frustrated by my own inadequacies and limitations as a photographer an exhibition of Jan Svoboda’s still life photography at the Photographers gallery helped lift the fog. After thirty eight years his work is again being shown at the same gallery. How can one describe his influence on me? He lit a slow burning fuse about what a photograph can be. He said he was not a photographer and that’s true. He was an artist and a poet who went his own way. Helping me along mine.

Space for pink picture 1972

What am i to understand by image and title? 1972 is written at the top of the image. This was the year of his publicly announced creative pause. ‘Attempts at an ideal proportion’ his last images before taking up a full time job. His aim never to do personal photography again. He did though. Why a pink picture? Reference to a poem or a painting. Does it focus our attention on the lack of colour in the picture?

A length of wood possibly pink is leaning against a wall. Yet narrow your eyes slightly and it could be a table top against a wall. Two planes one horizontal with lines showing perspective. The background textured with shadow. The lighting appears soft and directed to emphasize modelling. So we have what appears to be a traditional tabletop still life. But it is not. The calm demeanor of this minimalist composition deceives with intent. Svoboda was a conceptualist influenced by formalist painting, pained by political impotence driven by breaking with tradition in search of a pure photographic composition. His home was his studio. He lived surrounded by his images. The stick is not quite vertical. Look carefully at the lines on the horizontal plane and the camera is very slightly off centre. So the vanishing point is slightly to the right. The three elements of wall, tiles and stick are tarnished and damaged by their use. The print itself damaged and roughed up a little by life itself. I do not know whether this was an accident or deliberately planned after much thought. But he was a passionate, thoughtful, intelligent artist pursuing a more artistic vision for his still life photography.

The exhibition Jan Svoboda: Against the Light at The Photographers’ Gallery (21 Feb – 20 Sep 2020) marks the first major UK presentation of Czech photographer, Jan Svoboda (1934–1990) since his first solo exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery back in 1982.

Leave a Reply