An embossed title on a picture-less cover, open stitch binding, a discreet design and excellent print: Human has been published by Only Photography, the small publishing house belonging to Berlin gallery owner Roland Angst. It contains images by Czech photographer Viktor Kolár, depicting his home town of Ostrava over a number of decades. The bright orange cover shines out in any book store display, and, when the book is opened it is as though the black and white photo within shine out all the more as a result.
In one picture a piercing beam of light crosses the street like a gate, seeming to create an insurmountable obstacle for the pedestrians hurrying by. In another scene, snow-white cloths hang out to dry on a long washing line. A transport train speeds along the tracks in the background. Molten iron pours out like an enormous white sheet wrapping around the surrounding darkness. On one occasion, Kolár lets us look down a street, where people stand at regular intervals along the edges. In the forefront a woman turns her back to us, as though in prayer. Her fluttering white coat and matching shoes, underline the dreaminess of the scene. Kolár says he is influenced by Cartier-Bresson and the surrealism of Andre Breton, a truth evident in his pictures: he draws the 'decisive moment' from every situation; but it does not seem to reflect any objective outer reality, but rather the union of reality and dream.
At times you are overwhelmed by the humour, at times by the gloom, that thread their way through the surreal pictures. The scenes appear so tight, that you could well believe that Kolár gave the people, animals and objects precise directions. However, the photographer understands that life itself is the ultimate director of a scene, while he is the observant cameraman who frames it. In doing so, Kolár achieves the right measure of perspective, contrast and blurriness. There is no piece that is out of place in this series dedicated to the grimy industrial city that was once one of the most powerful centres of the steel industry – a city undergoing dramatic structural change even today. The oldest picture in the book is from 1965, the most recent one just three years old. The scenes follow no chronological order, but flow into each other creating an overall story about the changing relationship between people and work, between industry and nature – a story that also touches on the deep impact of the political and sociological changes that force people to gradually adapt.
The biography included in the book reveals that Viktor Kolár himself has led a life of constant change. After a diversity of jobs and the failure of the Prague Spring, he spent a few years abroad and then returned to a country in socialist paralysis; it was only in 1984 that he was finally able to turn his passion into a profession. Undoubtedly, Kolár has a brilliant capacity for observation and great stamina: as far as photography is concerned, he calls himself a long-distance runner. The many years covered in the publication flow together into a wonderful series, and it can only be hoped that both the book and the exhibitions will grant this long-distance photographer the attention and recognition he deserves. Peter Lindhorst
Viktor Kolár – Human
Only Photography Berlin, 2015.
80 pages with 61 photo plates
39,00 Euro, www.only-photography.com
Exhibition: Viktor Kolár - Fotografien at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover up until May 31, 2015, www.sprengel-museum.de
Exhibition: Viktor Kolár – Human at the Only Photography Gallery in Berlin till mid May, www.only-photography.com