A selection of black and white photographic work from the 1970s and 80s, by the Brno-based photographer (b. 1946, Brno, Czechoslovakia), which uniquely bridges the development of conceptual tendencies in Czech visual arts with Czech art photography from the same period.  Since 1971, Marie Kratochvílová has been making  photographic documentation of the Brno conceptual artists‘ activities; namely those of Jiří Valoch, J. H. Kocman, Dalibor Chatrný, Marian Palla among others. This has brought her new possibilities for content and expression in her photographs, which balance between the minimal and surreal, always intelligent and lucid.

“I have always felt myself to be fascinated by small, ordinary things, objects, environments, people and their ‘history’ and fortunes. I have attempted to blend reality and photography, closeness of an object and people, the objectivity of the lens,” wrote Kratochvílová in her artist’s statement a few years ago. Although her cycles were often made over a very short period of time, as if at one go (“photography was for me like going through an epileptic fit: it required that I was alone and completely concentrated”), the more condensed, intense, the more sensitive was the result. Photographs by Kratochvílová have always had the feeling of the softness of freshly fallen snow and the fragility of glasshouse flora.

A photographic oeuvre, the complete outcome of which (if we disregard gifted and commissioned photographs) can be stored in a single large box is truly a rarity among photographers who normally tend to be very productive. We might perhaps talk here about something like “picture ecology”, modest sustainability of the surrounding world and her own ambitions. Viewing the work of Marie Kratochvílová as a whole there emanates a circumspection and concentration unusual under local circumstances, not straining to achieve effect or amusement. The photographs are often dry, but all the more intense for it, always grounded in social empathy and careful avoidance of cheap gimmickry. This may be the reason why to this day they have admirably survived more contemporary styles without necessarily having to be observed exclusively through the prism of their time. Kratochvílová’s artistic career and her own attitude towards it are equally modest and free of pathos.

Pavel Vančát

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