16 December 2009

Jaroslav Malik: The Lord's First Supper 1929

For many years I've been carrying a distinct thought. A thought about two of the most ordinary things: birth and death, and everything in between. I was spending all my time on honest, hectic preparation. I was gathering the necessary information, the props. I tried one form of communication after another.
And suddenly there was this box of dusty glass plates from some attic, plates from an amateur photographer, a local medical pathologist from the First Republic period. The technique is clumsy, the pictures are all scratched, torn, partially erased, often completely unintelligible. They show family and friends, colleagues and patients, the dissection room, landscapes, holidays and ordinary days, the joy of child being born, the spectacular poses before the large-format machine, the pathology studies, the cold professional regime at the dissection table... Ordinariness and banality, comedy and drama, sentimentality, absurdity, but always tremendous poetry. Deep primal expression. Beauty. All my imagination conjured up before. Unbelievable. As if all my secret wishes were imprinted in this glass /more than two hundred of them/ in some attic, where fate had preserved them for me, and gave them to me as a gift at the most appropriate moment.
This is a very simple opposite of other similar collections still unexpectedly being found and published, for example those of Atelier Langhans, Sechtl a Vosecek, perhaps also Miroslav Tichý, etc. The present collection is also unique, exceptional, and hard to classify - perhaps for its modesty, truthfulness, and humility.
This gift I have refashioned to my own image. This is similar to a musician discovering some sheet music by an unknown composer; a theater director staging Shakespeare; the or the film director Jakubisko remaking the play Cachtická paní as a movie. A substantial portion of the images were left in its original state. For other images I finished the story, I retold it, I paraphrased it, albeit with humility toward the underlying primary form. I tried very carefully to step over a fine line, an almost imperceptible line, separating fiction and fact.

I don't know the names of the actors, their fates, not even their graves. All I know, beyond that fence over there, is a house with a hardly recognizable and long ago reconstructed attic. And in that attic, a broken down dusty box. And a photograph labeled "Lord's First Supper 1929". Slowly I unraveled its history, but gently, without invasiveness. This way I could grasp and tell the story without prejudice. A story, in which I communicate not only with images raising from glass plates, but also with the people. They come to life and become my close collaborators, perhaps friends, and above all critics, who don't cut me any slack.
Thanks to the technical imperfections of the recording technology (and thanks also to the elapsed time, which made its own imprint onto the poorly stored plates) these banal "snapshots" - of landscapes; cars; a canary; pigeon-house with a monkey; building sites and skate-parks; city squares; gardens and a shed; Christmases and a telephone exchange - now appear poetical and fragile. Portraits of the vacationers, the bearded merry pranksters, the sportsmen arranged in a single-file: all those portraits are now seized by hilarity and grotesqueness. Not a single solemn expression here. Photographs of a maid, a reader, parents and grandparents with a child, employees and various plain folks are suffused with an atmosphere of friendship and empathy, excitement and playfulness, smiles and humility, but also an atmosphere of humble professionalism. These faces radiate peace, self-sacrifice, confidence in oneself and in the world around. The touches of death in pathology studies; the details of human organs and anomalies; the shots from the dissection room and the laboratories - they all appear at peace and simply matter-of-fact.

For the majority of us, the presence of death in life is something that does not exist; something that is feared; something we try to deny. For some of us, then, these photos might appear surprising, out of place, emotionally distant, and perhaps even repulsive. But hypocritical? Not. Photographs depict nothing more and nothing less than birth, life, and death. In other words, the existence and non-existence of a human being. And we all are human!
I am convinced that in today's fast-paced era, people do like to stop and consider time that also stopped. Photography brings a lot of new phenomena - hectic, dynamic, quickly arising, and sometimes quickly disappearing. The boundaries between photographic genres are gradually obscured, and photography itself expands into other media, just as it is being invaded from outside. Perhaps it ought, or must, be that way. And it is good. However, I am convinced that photography as such is not dead, and still has a lot to offer. The form and content of photography - classical, contemporary, modern /let's hope not trendy/ - is and will certainly continue to be well understood.
I hope not to offend anyone, only that I may jolt a few of us out of complacency, make us stand up from our comfy chairs. The entire collection is meant to have a compact, understandable form. It carries a testimony from the past, as well as a mission and a message for the future. I'd be glad if the message is not lost.
Here lies before you a true story of one life, with an acceptable dose of magical subtext and fantasy, both of which are a necessary ingredient of life. Isn't it true?
invited by joanna


maga said...

got shivers watching these pics. Thanks for showing this Joanno

Lina Nääs said...

I think I need to go back and look at this again and again before I can really grasp it. And I look forward to it.

jeanne said...

Yes, just as Lina said, I will look at this many time. It's mysterious and beautiful and sometimes not so beautiful. Great work!

Markus said...

Outstanding work! I'm paralyzed here in front of my screen

Jan Buse said...

Yes I too look att this over and over again, great stuff.

Exposed Material said...

Great work! Old negatives are a treasure for sure.

Chris said...

Wonderful and thoughtprovoking work. Love this kind of photography!