Main exhibition

Calm before the storm | Jaroslav Kučera

4. 11. 2022 - 15. 1. 2023

Jaroslav Kucera (*1946) would be hard pressed to find a more fitting name for his photography collection capturing the two decades of repressive normalisation between the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and the Velvet revolution in November 1989.

In truth, on the surface life seemed to be calm. But a strange one, filled with tension. The calm seethed beneath its surface. Seethed with repressed emotions, mass frustration, schizophrenia of a dual existence, internal migration, and the irrepressible need for a sense kinship, even conspiracy… It was a state of “tragic conflict between external and internal reality, whose torment is experienced by the people of today”, to use the words of Czech interwar avant-garde artist Karel Tiege. Kucera immortalised the seemingly uncapturable contemporary conflict between external and internal reality, portraiting that strange calm. How? Through his extraordinary compassion and sensitivity toward a time he was a part of.

Jaroslav Kucera was 22 when he, a student at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague, was traumatised by August 1968 and the feeling of hot rage, disappointment, and powerlessness. That was the moment he decided to turn his previously amateur photography into a calling and a profession once he graduates. He began perceiving photography as an important tool for witness testimony and personal account, and with his characteristic zeal began capturing the unprecedented national cohesion, breath-taking solidarity, and spontaneous pushback against the rising new but familiar power. He was arrested, beaten, and kept in custody for several weeks. Kucera understood that the social documentary he was envisioning had no chance of materialisation in the time’s climate, and resorted to images whose testimony is indirect, round-about and focused exactly where the public’s attention quickly turned: behind the frame of the image.

And so his photographic cycles began emerging from student halls, city streets, deserted walkways, from the environment of buffets, pubs, casinos but also from the countryside, dedicated to the “people I have met”. Kucera’s deep empathy enabled him to act as a sensitive psychosocial probe. A probe with Kucera’s unique sense for humour, absurdity, and irony, particularly in the cycles Melnice winery and Communist festivities, where he brought together a touching display of human kinship and a contagious dark humour.

With his early work “Calm before the storm” Jaroslav Kucera places himself as the foremost representative of contemporary Czech photodocumentary.

Daniela Mrazkova, curator