Three Czech photographers, known for their controversial images, are on display at the Czech Photo Centre. The exhibition, Provokatéři, features pieces from Jan Saudek, Antonín Tesař, and Taras Kuščynskyj.
While many of the photographs are undeniably sexual, there is a lot more to the exhibition than pornographic images. The three artists share a common appreciation for the naked body, using staged sets and models to convey their experiences and emotions. The exhibition runs until August 8, making this the last few weeks it will be open to the public.
The artists work mostly with the nude, female body to express themselves, however, they have also worked with men, and clothed models. To many, the photographers’ focus on the exposed, female body is controversial. However, to the artists, it offers a means of understanding and communicating.
“These are subliminal sensations that we will not influence, whether we like it or not. In my photographs, nudity is not a goal, but a means of recording inner emotions,” said Tesař in an interview.
The three photographers exhibit an evolution of style and perception on eroticism, yet, each artist’s style is unique. Each artist has led their own life, undergoing their own experiences, traumas, and healing processes. These differences are clear in their photography. The way the capture and depict the raw, naked body, as well as the settings they chose, are strikingly different.
Tesař’s photography expresses deep emotion. For him, photography is a way grappling with his own life. While his photography is unapologetically sexual, the images express his relationship with his own life.
“There are only experiences and images born spontaneously in my head that have nothing to do with trying to communicate something to the audience. I make my own photography, primarily for myself, because I try to deal with some of my life events. For me, it is a way of therapy, a ritual in the form of thinking the scene, in its preparation,” said Tesař.
Earlier in his life, Tesař faced his own mortality, which has inspired many of his images today, including his photograph, “Pulp.” His images utilize bright colors that attract the eye but leave you with a mixture of feelings, both emotional and physical. Anguish and pain are common themes in his images, but his art is by no means limited to just these feelings.
“He flirts with decadent notions of love and death. He toys with the aesthetics of disgust. He touches on subconscious forms of anxiety and madness, making reference to pop culture and its demonstrative devaluation of traditional ethics and aesthetics, to the mass adoration of sex. He arrows understanding, but also disgust,” said Daniela Mrázková, the curator of the exhibition.
Kuščynskyj, who mostly photographs in black and white, often depicts women, posed in nature. His images range in their level of eroticism, from a fully clothed portrait to a naked woman straddling a tree. Often, the focus is his subjects’ posture or facial expression—or lack there of. While innate erotic desire might make looking at the naked body unavoidable, it is the collective image which makes his photography impactful.
Kuščynskyj’s photograph of Dana Schoulena, taken in 1971, is an example of how an erotic image can express much more than lust. The photo depicts her nude, holding herself closely. While erotic, one’s gaze can not be averted from her blank face resting on her knee, or the two, small burns on her otherwise smooth skin. While erotic, the image expresses life.
Saudek is probably the most famous and controversial of the three. His images feature color, but often with dark undertones, drawing you into the scene. Perhaps, one of the reasons he is so controversial is his own lack of understanding of his photography.
“Even he himself cannot be sure whether he has shaped his own life in accordance with the dreams he stages and photographs, or whether his photographs are a reflection, or even the way, of life he leads. . . A human comedy and tragedy in which passion plays a starring role” said Mrázková.
His images are alluring, but often ominous, displaying a different perspective on life. The exhibition displays how the human body and eroticism can communicate a wide variety of emotions. Each artist shows a piece of themselves. Together, they show a diverse perspective that is worth appreciating. Although some might be offended by their work, the exhibition offers unique insight into life from different perspectives, all through common themes.
Some question the value of feminine nudity in art. To Tesař, they are not the focus of his work. “. . . women were never ‘the subject’ for me, but they were always soulful beings for me and eternal inspiration,” said Tesař. While not denying the driving sexual motives in his work, it is clear that his art goes far beyond sexuality.
The Czech Photo Centre is located only a few steps away from the metro stop
Nové Butovice, along the B-line. Regular entrance is 50 CZK, and the reduced fair is 30 CZK. The event is open from Tuesday-Friday from 11:00-18:00, and on weekends from 10:00-18:00.