10. 9. 2015 - 22. 11. 2015
Anton Podstraský, Slovak photographer – documentary maker, studied at the photographic department of the School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava from 1955 to 1960. After completing his studies, he worked as a photographer at the film studio of Slovak Film in Bratislava. In the mid-1970s, he began to work as freelancer and his photos appeared in newspapers and magazines. He rarely participated in the activities of the photographic community and the whole of his work remained practically unknown to the expert and general public. Only recently did it become obvious that he was one of few Slovak photographers to succeed in fully capturing the other face of life during “real socialism“, i.e., in the final phase of development of the communist system before its decline.
Curators: Aurel Hrabušický, Filip Vančo
The exhibition is held under the auspices of the Ambassador of the Slovak Republic in Prague, Peter Weiss and is prepared in co-operation with the association Photoport and the Slovak Institute in Prague.
For a long period of time – from the middle of the 1960s to the 1990s, Podstraský’s photographs were found in newspapers, most freequently in dailies and their supplements, less often in illustrated magazines and only exceptionally in professional photography journals. Perhaps this is why his first two exhibitions were held in newspaper buildings – in 1969 in the foyer of the Smena office and in 1985 in the Roháč office. Podstraský experienced the same fate as many photographers whose work was scattered in newspapers and magazines; despite the huge amount of published photographs he remained little known as a photographer and his profile remained unclear.
Throughout most of the 1960s, Podstraský published film photographs (he also worked as the photographer for the Slovak Film Studios in Koliba, Bratislava); he began to publish live documentary photography at the end of this decade, in the fleeting days of the liberalized social situation in Czechoslovakia. He took advantage of the fading cultural climate which continued for the some time, even after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies in August 1968. The next two to three years were the most prolific period of his career. In 1971, the first and so far last article on his work was published in a professional journal. At that time, Ľudovít Hlaváč, a photographic historian and curator, also noticed his work and published a brief profile of Podstraský in his extensive Dejiny slovenskej fotografie (History of Slovak Photography), which was published in 1989.
Although Podstraský liked to shoot the dynamics of life, his recordings of gloominess, helplessness, personal and social resignation and stagnation are perhaps more important for the history of photography. Only a few like him presented typical expressions of social stagnation, which was the true picture of real socialism in the final phase of its existence. His images of „suspended existence“ are disturbing, despite the fact that they are related to an extinct historical epoch.
Aurel Hrabušický, extract from a text „Images of Failures and Decadence“
Anton Podstraský was born on April 1, 1939 in the town of Pružina near Povážská Bystrica. His father was a door-to-door salesman and he helped on the family farm from his childhood. He contracted bone tuberculosis when he was ten years old and suffered from its consequences for his entire life. From 1955 to 1960 he studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava, first in the carving department and later in the photography department, from which he graduated. He was hired as photographer for the Slovak film Studio in Bratislava immediately after finishing school. He worked there for fourteen years and documented the origin of several important films from the 1960s until the beginning of the 1970s (My z 9.A., Boxer a smrť, Drak sa vracia, Tango pre medveďa, Panna zázračnica, Muž, ktorý luže, Ľalie poľné).
After 1974, he mostly worked as freelance photographer with only occasional assignments; he took photographs for the Slovak National Gallery and the District II Cultural and Social Club in Bratislava, while also working as a night watchman. Starting in the second half of the 1960s, he published most of his photos in the daily papers (Smena, Večerník Bratislava) and illustrated magazines (Nedeľná Pravda, Život, Roháč). In the 1970s, he was imprisoned for four month for “defamation of the Republic and its socialist regime.” The court also ordered him to undergo anti-alcoholic treatment in the psychiatric institute in Galanta-Hody.
Up to 1989, he had two independent exhibitions – in 1969 in the foyer of the Smena office and in 1985 in the R Gallery in the Roháč office. In 1971, the first article on his work was published in a professional journal: Fotografické dotyky Antona Podstraského (Photographic Touches of Anton Podstraský – Fotografie 71, 1971, Volume 2) by Jaroslav Čiljak. In addition, Ľudovít Hlaváč published a profile of him in his extensive Dejiny slovenskej fotografie (History of Slovak Photography – Osveta, Martin, 1989).
Shortly after the changes in 1989, a collection of his photographs appeared in the exhibition Šesťdesiate roky v slovenskej fotografii (The 1960s in Slovak Photography – House of Culture, Bratislava, 1990, curators Aurel Hrabušický and Václav Macek) and in 1995, Martin Gazík directed a short documentary film about Podstraský for Slovak Television in Bratislava (within the cycle Človek uprostred – Man in the Middle). His exhibition entitled Oko diabla – srdce cherubína (Eye of a Devil – Heart of a Cherub) was held in the Cultus Cultural Center in Bratislava-Ružinov in 1998. Miro Miklas, a student of the Institute of Creative Photography at Silesian University in Opava began to study his work more closely and in 2007 he wrote about him in his bachelor’s paper Anton Podstraský. Kronikár života (Anton Podstraský. Chronicler of Life). In 2006, Miklas prepared an exhibition of his photographs in the Next Apache café in Bratislava and in 2007, Andrew Hillard, an English photographer, dedicated two articles in his blog to him.
In the last years of his life Anton Podstraský began to suffer from serious health issues. His leg was amputated in the spring of 2007 and he died on August 21, 2007 in Bratislava. Several weeks later the exhibition entitled Stratený čas? Slovensko 1969–1989 v dokumentárnej fotografii (Lost time? Slovakia 1969–1989 in Documentary Photography), was organized by the Slovak National Gallery and was represented by an extensive collection of photographs. In 2011, curator Filip Vančo organized the exhibition entitled Anton Podstraský. Synáčik ulice (Anton Podstraský. Son of the Street) at the Photoport Gallery – Center of Visual Art in Bratislava.
Anton Podstraský predominantly used a Praktisix camera.