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  • Writer's pictureEllie Rankin


Updated: May 22, 2020

I visited an exhibition at the Photographers gallery in early February exhibiting the works of Czech artist and photographer, Jan Svoboda. Svoboda (1934-1990) was an important Czech artist, who is known for having a major role in redefining the language of photography, specifically in relation to painting and sculpture. From the late 1950's onwards, he moved from working in the realms of existentially conceived still lives, to creating works that pose questions about the rules and bounderaris of the photographic image. Bringing attention and light to ideas surrounding conventional compositions, tonality and physical substance when creating images.

Svoboda is described as :

"Being among the worlds pioneers of photographic appropriation and forerunners of conceptual photography"

"The challenger of photography"

After visiting the exhibition and viewing his work, I became extremely fascinated and engaged within his ideas and attitudes towards the photographic medium. I purchased his book from the gallery of his works, and this is when it occurred to me about how viewing and experiencing works can be effectively altered in just what platform you experience it.

An integral part of the autonomous essence of Svoboda's works is the sophisticaadteldy constructed mounting of his photographs. This is minimised to the picture alone, without a frame or boarder, which is then pasted onto a hard backing and set off from the wall by a metal hanging frame. in this way Svoboda maximises the autonomy of the photographic image, its physicality, no matter how illusory. The photograph, which other photographers usually put into an ordinary frame or mounting, has thus become in essence a two dimensional sculpture. the occasional signing or dating of the photographs directly on the front (following the examples of painters), often sophistically enclosing the composition, is similarly radical.

One of his most notable collection of works 'The other side of a photograph', 1969-72 made me begin to question this idea of the contemporary photograph's position in a digital world. With it being a rarity to experience photographs in an physical form these days, as a result of the rise in digital technologies, allowing us o have instantaneous access to any form of photograph we want at the click of a button. His work, being made in the 60's and 70's still stands just as relevant and important now as it may have done then, for both similar and different reasons.

On a whole, I took a significant amount away from the entire experience of visiting that particular exhibition. That being a result of the works needing to be viewed and experienced physically, as opposed to any other format. Re visiting Svoboda's works in the form of the published book certainly made me realise just how special those particular pieces were that were featured in the exhibition. If I hadn't have seen them in person I certainly wouldn't have felt the same connection as I did when seeing them physically. Looking at his works and revisiting my notes from the exhibition has definitely been a turning point and a point of realisation that I aim to pursue within my own work for this unit.

Below are some featured works taken from the book & exhibition :

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