The exhibition discovers some little-known, but remarkably inspiring figures in contemporary photography. Guys (1989-1990) and Color Photography (2010) are the titles of two remarkable photography series, created by a pair of artists living in Prague, Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák. Ordinary life is the subject of a sophisticated game in these images of people spied on the streets, and meticulously composed, though quite everyday still lifes. It leads to disarming aesthetic adventures, but also to more general reflections on the essence of photography, its relationship to reality, and the functions of documenting and creative work. The artists comment on the pairing of these two series with customary precision: “The color still lifes are clear and pure, and Guys is very real.”
Color Photography evokes images that are at once clear and somewhat rustic. The intensity and purity of the color deceives us to the same degree as the various compositions’ symbolic allusions. The still lifes photographed by Jasanský and Polák take place, as it were, at the end of art history, in a non-committal and timeless atmosphere, anticipating content of new meaning and significance, as in a half-filled cup, or the reverse, a final cleansing of simple, narrative associations, in favor of a surrealist game of colors and objects.
Guys is an uncompromising attempt to use photography in a simple and natural, though none-too-obvious way, to document something that seems utterly uninteresting. Average, anonymous middle-aged men, photographed from a distance, against bland urban backdrops make for a down-to-earth anti-allegory of the stormy transformation of 1989-90, when the photographs from this series were taken. The men walk, stop, wait, and look, seeing something or nothing. Plucked from the crowd and their social context they unexpectedly create a special species; stripped of a main idea and form, powerless and defenseless, yet terrifyingly authentic, they are a monument to the stagnation of the late communist epoch.
Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák have been working together since 1985. Since then they have created twenty-seven series of photographs, in which they have explored the conventionality of the medium in various ways. Their work draws from both the tradition of conceptual art and from classical studio, landscape, and street photography, seducing the viewer all the while with their subtle sense of humor. Jasanský and Polák are among the Czech Republic’s most important contemporary photographers, effectively deconstructing the tradition of stylized and ham-fisted artistic photography. In 2012 they had a monographic book of over ten thousand photographs published by tranzit.cz and JRP|Ringier.
The Raster exhibition, prepared in cooperation with Svit Gallery (Prague), will be accompanied by a presentation and a book fair of the artists’ publications, as well as a lecture and a discussion on new Czech photography and its ties to Polish work. This is also the first solo presentation of the work of Jasanský and Polák in Poland. Early next year, they will have a solo exhibition, curated by Adam Mazur, at the BWA Gallery in Tarnów.
We are grateful to the Czech Center in Warsaw for their support in organizing the exhibition.