The photograph of Bratislava, occupied by the Soviet army, by Ladislav Bielik was not published under his name, moreover, it was often falsely thought to have been created in Prague. It is possible that for this reason it became internationally known. The first half of the 1970s was affected by a renewed censorship of publishing and gallery activities and by the emigration of many authors. A positive image of the formation of the state could not be undermined by undesirable themes or ways of depiction. Martinček’s book Česť odvážnym, ktorí umierajú v sedle (Honour to the Brave Dying in the Saddle) could not be published in its original version for ideological reasons.
During the normalization of the 1970s, the Secondary School of Art Industry symbolized a unique environment, a protected area of an open thinking. At that time, Elo Havetta, Juraj Jakubisko, Juraj Herz and others graduated in photography and became highly successful in the Czechoslovak film industry. The school still exists under the name of the Josef Vydra School of Applied Arts.
FROM UNIQUENESS TO TYPICALITY, FROM STEREOTYPES TO EXTREMES
In spite of the censorship, documentary photographers devoted themselves to their personal themes, though with uncertain prospect of publication or exhibition. In this way the photographs of the church life or people on the margins of the society fell into oblivion.
Pavol Breier was not searching for decisive moments and events. The character of his documentary production lies in the suspense of a sublime visual aspect and a quick reaction of a reporter. On the other hand, Czech photographer Markéta Luskačová was looking for mystique, myth and continuation of the past through the depiction of the religious traditions of the Slovak villages. Jozef Sedlák was taking photographs of social care institutions over a long time period, asking questions about the meaning of life and values.
Amateur photographers or autodidacts were bringing new ideas to real life photography – visual defects in the picture are not necessarily errors if they are especially relevant in terms of the action. Photography was also influenced by a certain apathetic objectivism – belief that reality is more important than the values of photographer. It may be observed in the orientation towards a long-term capturing of social groups in form of sociological units and environments and depiction of specific stereotypes. In his works, Stano Pekár used to present common environments and ordinary people without embellishment – boxers, single-person housings or discotheques. Ľubo Stacho keeps capturing the shop windows of the Obchodná Street in Bratislava and their gradual change. The Obchodná ulica (Obchodná Street) series by Juraj Bartoš contains pictures of the same street (in the 1970s and 1980s it was one of the most renowned Bratislava streets), of both everyday and occasional pedestrians. Ján Rečo humorously depicted ministry officers as tired, ordinary people.
Another prominent figure of the Slovak real life photography, reporter Tibor Huszár, explored the theme of Gypsies in his personal style. The environment he knew since his childhood (the Romani community was not separated from the village where he grew up) is rendered with the promptness of a reporter who portrays different types of people as well as decisive moments. Much later, in 2010, author Šymon Kliman introduced another interpretation of the theme with his fashionably stylized portraits of Gypsies – the Romani people in their home environment.
The comprehensive exhibition of the Slovak National Gallery titled Stratený čas? Slovensko v dokumentárnej fotografii 1969 – 1989 (Lost Time? Slovakia 1969 – 1989 in Documentary Photography) was dedicated to a detailed depiction of the period through documentary photographs. In the process of selection, curators Aurel Hrabušický and Petra Hanáková took into consideration many spheres of both private and public life that were previously forgotten but turned into the photographic themes.
FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
Landscape photography was developing rapidly in comparison with the limited publication of real life photography. The collection by Dušan Slivka, Krajina (Landscape, 1972 – 2000), is a portrayal of the Slovak landscape defying previous traditional, dramatic black-and-white rendering – minimalist colourful, almost monochromatic, photographs lacking symbolism are approximating to meditation. Impresie od bielej čiary (Impressions by the White Line) by Ján Motulko depict the landscape in time – the time of the author’s journey. Black-and-white photographs of geometrically simplified urban still life resemble the Czech photography minimalism, e.g. the photographs by Jan Svoboda.
As it has been mentioned earlier, the surrealist movement did not develop in the Slovak photography in the 1930s. In the 1970s, however, many male and female photographers were creating fine art photographs inspired by dreaminess and ominousness. In comparison with the surrealism as we know it from the works of painters such as Salvador Dalí, that was supposed to shock and reveal the gloomy layers of the dreamy subconscious, it was the case of poetry of subtle combinations of shapes and associations, e.g. in the works of photographer Ľuba Lauffová and her book illustrations in Krajina Zázračno (Wonderland) by Daniel Hevier.
Milota Havránková recast photography to different materials (glass, canvas, wood, plastic, metal) and created photographs – objects. She created monumental photographs in spacious interiors introducing subjective inputs and manually intervening in the photographic positive that was considered almost sacred and inviolable by most of the authors until then. Judita Csáderová, on the other hand, was working with pure photography – without the intervention in the negative or positive. Having the sense of detail, arrangement of objects and light, she mystified the viewer, as in the case of photographs of footprints in the sand. These footprints are illuminated from the side so that it is not clear whether they are sticking out in the space as relief or if they are sunk in it.
PHOTOGRAPHY AS DEPICTION OF ABSTRACT THOUGHT
Apart from the fine art form, photography is becoming important for the contemporary conceptual art movement – art which has abandoned the primarily material form of the work. Photography was a means of capturing happenings and performance used by artists such as Michal Kern, painter Dezider Tóth (Monogrammist T.D.), Július Koller (UFO performance) and Stano Filko (theme of a white space). Rudo Sikora expressed his philosophical reflections through direct photographic means. In his abstract photographs, he used signs * and † for birth and death respectively. He also made use of X-ray images and photographs of the space.
In addition to photographer – reporter and fine art photographer, emerges an artist using photography.
An interesting example is the production of photographic sequences. It is often complemented with a text which forms part of a story or reveals deeper meanings.
In the early 1980s, mixing of styles and genres, high and low art, came to the fore in the world of art instead of the efforts to always create a new, original and rational style. The employed props and motifs in the postmodernist paintings and photographs could be interpreted in two ways – the things are what they are (if they are kitsch, they will remain kitsch), at the same time they are references to other stories – the history of art or fictitious stories invented by the author. Modernism as a straightforward style and movement was replaced with play, irony, freedom and independence.
The new Slovak wave was represented by a generation of Slovak photographers at the FAMU who rejected the “serious” aesthetic production or documentary. In technically perfect black-and-white photographs, they were creating fictitious biographies and stories (with models lying on the ground and being photographed from above by Miro Švolík), animating objects by means of light painting over the photograph (Peter Župník), working at ease with nude models (elegant nude photographs by Tono Stano or staged photographs with theatrical effect in Ako zaobchádzať s domorodcami/How to Treat the Natives by Vasil Stanko). By contrast, Rudo Prekop created striking staged still lives with a story, composed in the square format. Playfulness met with existential irony in a prematurely finished work by Jano Pavlík, the series Ernest a Alica (Ernest and Alicia).
Authors also dared to experiment with the language of fashion, advertising and pop art or get the inspiration from its leading figure – Andy Warhol, as in the case of Jano Pavlík. Other authors of the postmodernist movement were establishing their own style: Moje intuitívne divadlo (My Intuitive Theatre) by Pavel Pecha, philosophical light drawings – luminography works by Jozef Sedlák or light rituals by Kamil Varga. In his diptychs, Ľubo Stacho explored the theme of time.
Another postmodernist feature of the art based on photography is the employment of quotations and reinterpretations of the works where photography is a tool of capturing the staged scene of the work, e.g. Návrat strateného syna (The Return of the Lost Son) by Vladimír Kordoš. A particular example of the combination of painting and photography is that of the repainting cycles by Daniel Fischer analysing the relationship with nature.