1945 – 1968: (Re)start

In the post-WW II restored Czechoslovakia, it was once again necessary to initiate the formation of cultural institutions. In 1948, the Slovak National Gallery was established as well as two universities specializing in visual and performing art: the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (1948) and the Academy of Performing Arts (1949). However, it was not possible to study photography or film until the 1990s. Those citizens of Czechoslovakia who were interested in training at the university level could only study photography as a stand-alone specialization at the FAMU (the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) since 1960. Ján Šmok, a FAMU professor, was instrumental in its foundation and functioning.
In 1945, the activities of the School of Arts and Crafts were followed by the newly established State School of Industrial art in Bratislava on the initiative of the Ministry of Education and National Enlightenment. Classes were given by eminent photographers such as Ľudovít Absolon or Alexander Strelinger.
With the abolition of the private sector, the cultural and photographic activities of professionals and associations were to be administered by the state. On the initiative of Magdaléna Robinsonová, a photography section of recognized professional photographers was created at the Slovak head office of the Association of Czechoslovak Fine Artists.
Since the beginning of the 1950s, the photographic community started to support a number of activities – national as well as international photographic exhibitions, publishing of periodicals dealing also with photography and books with photographic images by the publishing house Osveta in Martin. In the late 1960s, a Fine Art Photography edition was created at the State Publishing House of Belles-Lettres in Prague, which also published a comprehensive monograph of a prominent photographer, author of the concept of a decisive moment and the founder of the Magnum agency, Henri-Cartier Bresson.
A revised edition of the Slovensko vo fotografii Karla Plicku (Slovakia in Photographs by Karel Plicka, 1949) was also published. In a new political situation, Plicka’s depiction of the Slovak countryside began to be understood in new contexts.


Although the subjective approach to themes and the aestheticization of reality were in fact not in compliance with the official doctrine of the socialist regime, they gradually penetrated the field of photography in spite of the fear of “formalism”. In the early 1950s, the formation of the socialist state affected also photojournalism which adopted the ways of depiction from the period before modernism and began to focus on the shaping of the present and the future. Since the mid-1950s, authors continued to focus on the visual modernism except for the occasional themes compliant with that time. The exhibition in the Slovak National Gallery called Prerušená pieseň (Interrupted Song), which was dedicated to visual art, is one example.
Ján Náhlik and Viliam Malík, a documentarist and autodidact, belong to prominent photographers of this period. His pictures of architecture, cities, industrial buildings and events of that time, e.g. Repatrianti (Returnees), Bombardovanie Apolky (the Bombing of Apolka), became part of the Slovak cultural heritage.


Following the events of the Second World War, a wave of humanistically oriented thinking (and photography) led to the establishment of the international Magnum Photos agency (representing photographers as independent authors and protecting their copyright) in 1947. In 1955, Edward Steichen organized a travelling exhibition Ľudská rodina (The Family of Man) in New York. The aim of the exhibition was to demonstrate family togetherness in the world and the beauty of everyday life by means of more than 500 documentary and journalist photographs from the authors from all around the world. Even photography can make the beauty of disguise, a hidden poetry, visible. A decisive moment when the situation is presented in the most accurate way and the engagement of people from the photograph in the photographic production itself were part of the approach of photographers from both sides of the Iron Curtain of that time.
Some of the Slovak photographers dedicated themselves to poetry of everyday life, others were influenced by their film studies or profession as a cameraman (Ján Cifra, Tibor Honty, Alexander Strelinger, Juraj Šajmovič).
There is an increasing interest in real life photography among eminent photographers such as Martin Martinček, Karol Kállay, Bohumil Puskailer and others.


Martin Martinček, originally a lawyer, moved to Liptov due to the difficulties with the regime and found a new civil job. He became a professional photographer only at the age of 48. During his photographic production, he created a “visual encyclopedia” of the Liptov countryside and its inhabitants. He presented his photographs in the books such as Nezbadaný svet (The Unnoticed World), Vám patrí úcta (You Deserve Respect), Vrchári (Highlanders), Hora (Mountain), Chvála vody (The Praise of Water) and others, in cooperation with writers, but first of all with poet Milan Rúfus – Kolíska (Cradle), Ľudia v horách (Mountain People). This cooperation produced comprehensive books that are unique from both the visual and textual point of view.
Martinček devoted himself to photography of nature and landscape in search of its inner life, animating wood or water by means of the change of light or micro-moments – the books Chvála vody (The Praise of Water), Chvála slnka (The Praise of the Sun).
A lifelong interest in people from this region and knowledge of their life manifest themselves in all of his works, portraits and documentary photographs of the people living on the margins of society, portraying them with respect and looking with them for the answers to the questions about the meaning of life and values. After Martin Benka’s depiction of the village life characterized by heroic and silent struggling and Plicka’s celebration of Slovakia as such, it seems as if through his works, Martinček was paying tribute to the tough and modest way of the village life and those rural dwellers who quietly passed away.
Five of his photographic collections provided a direct source of inspiration for the documentary film Obrazy starého sveta (Pictures of the Old World) by Dušan Hanák. The national distribution of the film as well as some of Martinček’s cycles were restricted.


Reporter and journalist Karol Kállay is known for his versatile personality. Since 1956, he worked as a freelance photographer. As one of the few Czechoslovak authors of that time, he had the opportunity to travel abroad where he created a majority of his principal collections (e.g. Roma, Paris, Mexico, New York). Karol Kállay may be reckoned as a photographer with humanistic approach. In his works, it is possible to observe a mixture of styles, the influence of the New document and also a sense of the elegance of the moment stemming from his simultaneous practice as a fashion photographer. His photographs capture the characteristics of the situation and its performers.


Photographer Bohumil Puskailer, whose works were not released in Czechoslovakia after his emigration in 1968, took pictures of Bratislava before its redevelopment. The pictures of the old settlement Vydrica or the unique photographs of the hippies in Slovakia titled Deti lásky (The Children of Love), sporting events and art contain the features of the New document. It should be mentioned that the term New document refers to the exhibition New Documents held in 1967 where authors Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus presented their photographs with a specific aesthetic – snapshots, grainy photographs, action and its direct depiction without pathos.


Although surrealism dominated the Slovak literature and painting, it prevailed in the Czech photography. The search for the unconscious or subconscious surreal world in random real-world groups of objects is characteristic e.g. of the works by photographer Tibor Honty (living in Prague), mainly the cycles of photographs of sculptures. In her works, Magdaléna Robinsonová makes use of the surrealistic metaphor.
New ideas about the mountain people and landscape photography came from an autodidact, Igor Grossmann. By reducing the scale of grey, he nearly created a graphic portrayal of landscape.
Moreover, a discrepancy arises between the fine art photography and real life photography, real life photography (photojournalism, documentary photography) including too many random factors to be able to devise a comprehensive invariable visual scheme that could be followed by the author over a long time period. A lot of photographers (non-professionals included) considered the experiments in graphic design and fine art as an opportunity to raise photography to the level of fine art. A subjective perspective penetrates photography as the accentuation of its creative possibilities using the visual means (the term “subjective” was not considered appropriate by the ideology of the 1950s and 1960s). Thus, photographers graphically adjusted their photographs, reducing the shades of grey to the minimum, as it was in the case of Otakar Nehera or Igor Grossmann, or looking for the similarities and metaphors, e.g. the faces by František Tomík.
A new form of fine art photography is born – nude photography – with a noticeably simplified graphics and quite decent from today’s perspective (e.g. the works by Miro Gregor).
The late 1960s are characterized by the new expansion of photography in parallel with the weakening of the regime not only in the form of a real life, documentary photography. Photography is receiving recognition and publicity also from the general public. The first solo photographic exhibition organized by the Slovak National Gallery was dedicated to the works of Martin Martinček. In 1969, the first gallery dedicated to photography, the Intimate Photo Gallery – Profil, was established with a theorist Ľudovít Hlaváč as its curator.