Jiří Poláček (1946 – 2016) belonged to the generation of photographers who introduced in the 1970s the new standard of professionalism. He was influenced by the beat generation when he emigrated to America and later during his studies at FAMU by the group of photographers around Anna Fárová whose work was displayed at the legendary exhibition in the Plasy monastery in 1981. The main theme of Poláček´s work was the neighbourhood of Smíchov, where he was born and grew up. From the 1970s to 1990s he captured the atmosphere in Smíchov using different forms. From the mid-1970s he worked as an assistant to Jan Svoboda and from 1982 he cooperated with Ivan Lutterer and Jan Malý on a large cycle of portraits called The Czech Man.
The first exhibition of works selected from the artist´s archive shows not only the well-known and significant series of photographs from Smíchov but also a much wider scale of his interests and approaches. After a period of Bohemian life in America (1967-1972), where he did a course on photo-journalism at UCLA, Poláček returned to Prague where the worst years of the so-called normalization period had started. He managed to transform his initial shock and feeling of depression into several series of photographs which represent one of the most accurate pictures of the atmosphere in Prague during the 1970s and 1980s. Only three photographs are displayed from the famous series called The Czech Man which Poláček worked on together with Jan Malý and Ivan Lutterer from 1982 and which forms a sociologically oriented parallel to the previous cycle.
There were two things which played a significant role in Poláček´s further development. One of them was his studies at the Department of Photography at FAMU (1974-1978) and the second one was his friendship with Jan Svoboda. From 1975 he worked as Svoboda´s assistant helping him to develop photographs and became one of his few true friends. In Poláček´s series Reflections we can see the influence of Svoboda´s esthetics. Svoboda gave him the legendary panoramatic camera, which had belonged to Josef Sudek, and which Poláček used to take photographs not only in Smíchov but also to document the harsh life at the turn of the 1980s in the mountainous region Krušnohoří. After the revolution Poláček continued with his project The Czech Man and he also devoted himself to gastronomic photography.
Poláček´s first retrospective exhibition shows the work of a concentrated artist, who reacted sensitively and accurately to the atmosphere in society in those days, and who drew upon the best traditions in Czech and foreign photography, enriched by his characteristic mix of vigor, understanding and modesty.

Pavel Vančát

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