9th International Moscow Photobiennale, 2012 – MIROSLAV TICHÝ – THE ARTIST WITH THE BAD CAMERA
(Moscow Museum of Multimedia Art)
We might say that obsessive fixation on particular subjects or themes is sometimes what separates a serious photographer from the average weekend enthusiast. This strange compulsion to return again and again to the same subject matter often verges on borderline psychosis. The Czech artist Miroslav Tichý certainly fits this criteria.
His photos initially seem like extremely blurry, rough snaps taken at summer family holidays, until you realise that almost all the people in the pictures are women, and their sheer number, plus the fact that they rarely look at the camera means that they are unaware that the photos were being taken. What makes Tichý’s exploits infinitely more interesting was that fact that as well as being a softcore voyeur and a devoted fan of female rumps, he was also a madcap inventor, and made his own cameras out of any junk at hand, such as plywood, cardboard, tin cans or children’s telescopes. He even polished his lenses with a mixture of toothpaste and ashes.
Actually perhaps Tichý wasn’t quite the harmless eccentric that he seemed to be – he was previously a painter and a former member of the Bruno Five, a group of painters who broke with the state-sanctioned Socialist Realism of the postwar years. He had previously studied at the Academy of Arts in Prague, so the idea of his later photos and camera projects being absolutely naive and uncalculated may be buying into a myth that he himself was happy to perpetuate. The time he spent in institutions may indeed have been a sign of his genuine mental instability, or he might instead have been simply another person who didn’t fit the Soviet societal model, with institutionalisation often utilised as a ‘mild’ quick-fix solution to silencing dissent. There’s a popular absurd expression in Eastern Europe that there was categorically “no sex in the USSR” – perhaps Tichý’s photography was a simply too bohemian for the surrounding environment and ethos of the day.
Tichý died last year, in 2011, and his work was only properly ‘discovered’ about 6 years prior, when his younger ex-neighbor Roman Buxbaum, who had gone on to become a psychiatrist and artist practicing in Zurich, decided to promote him. The exhibition I saw at MAMM displays 150 Tichý photos. Most feature women (of all shapes, ages and sizes) in swimsuits lounging in the sun, often shot through fences, or couples locked in embraces on park benches. His rough aesthetic is continued with the frames that he made for many of them from paper bags, newspapers, cartons and even pages from his own passport.
These days it’s so much easier to intrude on other people’s lives, given all the surveillance technology at our disposal. In comparison, Tichý’s blurred, fleeting portraits of the women in his town of Kyjov don’t come across as depraved or highly charged works, but rather as a somewhat whimsical record of one man’s obsession with the idea rather than the act of eroticism. Tichý himself once said: A woman for me is a motif, nothing much else interests me anymore. I am not interested in chasing women. Erotica is just a dream.
However the true mark of Tichý’s rise to prominence in the contemporary, post-Soviet world is abundantly clear. He inspired the creation of an Apple application — “Bad Camera”, which is based on his photography. Oh yes, and he even has a Facebook page.
by SUSIE GARDEN