Jaromír Funke

JAROMÍR FUNKE: PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE AVANT-GARDE

25. 11. 2016 — 29. 1. 2017
To mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of the world-renowned Czech photographer, teacher and writer on photography Jaromír Funke (1896–1945), Leica Gallery Prague has prepared an exhibition devoted exclusively to the most important segment of his work – his avant-garde studies in the style of functionalism, new objectivity, abstraction and surrealism. Some of Funke's photographs from the 1920s, with their pioneering use of light and translucence not only as compositional elements but as subjects in themselves, rank among the most radical examples of abstraction in international photography. His cycles Reflexes, exploring the phantasmagorical opposition between reality and reflection, and Time Lasts, capturing eerie encounters between disparate objects in unexpected contexts, were the first surrealist works of Czech photography. Avant-garde tendencies are also evident in his photographs of architecture and details of industrial buildings, as well as in his nudes, portraits, landscapes and social documentary shots. The exhibition, which beside original period prints of his most famous images also presents some of his lesser-known and hitherto unpublished work, has been put together by Vladimír Birgus with the kind assistance of Funke's daughter, Miloslava Rupešová.

Jaromír Funke: Photographer of the Avant-garde

The Leica Gallery Prague is holding this exhibition to mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of the world-famous Czech photographer Jaromír Funke (1896–1945). The exhibition concentrates exclusively on the most important part of Funke’s work – namely, his Avant-garde photographs in the styles of Cubism, New Objectivity, Functionalism, abstract art, and Surrealism. In the first half of the twentieth century Funke began to make simple still lifes of ordinary, often seemingly unphotogenic, objects. These works are examples of the possibilities of abstracting reality down to elementary shapes and of suppressing spatial perspective, while fully preserving the distinctive features of the photographic medium. In his compositions with sheets of glass, bottles, and light bulbs, it is the cast shadows that gradually come to play the leading role. His treatment of subject of light, translucence, and reflections of light culminated in the series Abstract Photo (1927–29). At the same time he was also making photographs in the spirit of Constructivism, for example, the set of photos from the Kolín Power Station and the Masaryk Hall of Residence in Brno. In his unconventional compositions, Funke inventively used bold angles of view and diagonal arrangements when photographing simple motives in their fundamental forms. He was the first Czech to make Surrealist photographs. In the series Glass and Reflections (later renamed Reflections, 1929), capturing phantasmic encounters of reality and its reflections in glass, he was reacting to Atget’s works. In his next set, Time Persists (1930–34), he sought unusual encounters of various objects outdoors. He also applied Avant-garde approaches in his nudes, photographs of architecture, portraits, landscapes, and documentary shots on social topics. Also as teacher at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague and as a writer on photography and organizer of exhibitions, Funke was a profound influence on Czech photography. Showing not only his most famous works but also some of his lesser-known and indeed never-published works as originals prints Funke made himself, together with newer prints from original negatives, the Leica Gallery Prague exhibition has been organized in collaboration with Funke’s daughter, Miloslava Rupešová.

                                                                                                                                                               Vladimír Birgus

JAROMÍR FUNKE’S LIFE IN DATES

1896    Born on 1 August, in Skuteč, east Bohemia, to the Kolín lawyer Antonín Funke and his wife Miloslava.

1908    Received his first camera as a present from his father.

1915    Graduated from grammar school in Kolín, and began to attend the medical school of Prague University.

1919    At his father’s request, quit medical school and began to attend the law school of Charles University, Prague. He graduated in 1922, but decided not to sit the final exams. From 1919 to 1922, also read philosophy and art history at the Faculty of Arts at Prague, but did not finish this course either.

1920    Began to devote himself intensively to making photographs. At first, focused on matter-of-fact shots of Kolín and its suburbs, romantic landscapes, and out-of-the-way places in the city, working in the pictorialist style.

1923    Made his first Avant-garde photographs, mainly still lifes influenced by Cubism, New Objectivity, and abstract art, but also made genre photos in the spirit of purist pictorialism. Eighteen of his gelatin silver photographs were included in the First Exhibition of the Association of Czech Camera Clubs (Svaz českých klubů fotografů amatérů) in Prague.

1924    Began to publish articles on photography, including theory. Showed his works for the first time in international photographic salons in Paris and Toronto. Continued to send works for exhibition in salons until the early 1930s. His photographs were shown, for example, in Birmingham, London, Turin, Stockholm, Saragossa, Ottawa, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Antwerp, Brussels, Glasgow, Seattle, Warsaw, New York City, Tokyo, Manchester, Montevideo, and Vienna. On 17 March, became a member of the Prague Camera Club (Fotoklub Praha), but was expelled in four months, together with Adolf Schneeberger, Josef Sudek, and Josef Šroubek, after writing highly critical remarks about a set of photographs from a camera club outside Prague.

1925    In January, became a member of the Czech Photographic Society (Česká fotografická společnost), which brought together forward-looking young photographers who made their works as gelatin silver prints, rejecting pigment processes.

1927    Made the first works of the Abstract Photo series, which are among his best.

1929    With the series Glass and Reflection (later called Reflections), became the first Czech photographer to react to Atget and to make works in a Surrealist spirit. In a production of Synge’s Riders to the Sea at the National Theatre in Brno (directed by E. F. Burian), the stage designer Zdeněk Rossmann projected slides of Funke’s abstract photos onto a screen that was part of the Constructivist scenery. Began to publish in the Avant-garde periodicals ReD and Index.

1930    Worked with Alexandr Hackenschmied, organizing the New Photography exhibition at the Aventinská mansarda (the attic exhibition space of the Aventinum publishing house), Prague. It was the first group exhibition of Avant-garde photography in the Czechoslovak capital. Made photographs of modern architecture for Bohuslav Fuchs’s book Masarykův studentský domov Brno (The Masaryk Hall of Residence, Brno).

1931    Beginning on 1 September, taught photography part-time at the Vocational School and the School of Arts and Crafts (Škola umeleckých remesiel) in Bratislava, at first only for evening courses. Began to work with the periodical Nová Bratislava (New Bratislava). In Kolín, in autumn, had his first solo exhibition.

1932    Participated in The Modern Spirit in Photography, an important exhibition organized by the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, which included works, for example, by André Kertész, Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Edward Steichen, Henri Cartier-Bresson, František Drtikol, and Josef Sudek.

1933    The Ministry of Education approved Funke’s being a part-time teacher of advertising photography at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague. Lubomír Linhart included Funke’s works in the Exhibition of Socially Engaged Photography (Výstava sociální fotografie), which opened at the Metro Centre, Prague.

1934    On 1 September, was made a professor at the School of Arts and Crafts, Bratislava.

1935    On 1 February, began to teach at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague, working with Josef Ehm until the end of the 1943–44 school year. Ehm had already been following Funke’s syllabus in his own teaching. Together with the head of the school, Ladislav Sutnar, Funke edited the publication Fotografie vidí povrch (Photography sees the surface), comprising works by teachers and students. On 28 November, married his sweetheart of many years, Anna Kellerová of Kolín.

1936    On 19 November, became a member of the Mánes Society of Artists. In December, together with Jiří Lehovec, Josef Sudek, Jindřich Štyrský, and František Vobecký, became a member of the newly founded photography section of the Mánes Society.

1937    Took his first photographs in Subcarpation Ruthenia, the eastern-most province of Czechoslovakia. Participated in the Exhibition of the Czechoslovak Avant-garde, organized by Burian’s D 37 theatre at the Industrial Arts Centre (Dům uměleckého průmyslu), Prague. On 14 December, his daughter Miloslava was born.

1938    Participated in a Prague exhibition of photography by six members of the photography section of the Mánes Society of Artists.

1939    In the autumn, together with his friend Eugen Wiškovský, began to work together intensively on the periodical Fotografický obzor (Photographic review), whose new editor was Josef Ehm. From the beginning of 1940 until March 1941, Funke, together with Ehm, was an editor of this monthly. In 1940, published a special issue on Avant-garde photography, which includes Funke’s now famous article ‘Od fotogramu k emoci’ (From the photogram to emotion).

1940    On commission from the town council, photographed the north-west Bohemian town of Louny, and later also Kolín.

1942    Otakar Štorch-Marien published 52 copies of Funke’s portfolio of original photographs of various Prague churches.

1944    After the State School of Graphic Arts was closed down by the Nazi authorities, Funke, as of October, was employed by the Dorka industrial arts co-operative.

1945    On 16 March, was taken to hospital with what appeared to be acute appendicitis, but could not be operated on immediately because an air-raid was expected. After the operation, it was determined that he had been suffering from peritonitis caused by a burst duodenal ulcer. Jaromír Funke died on 22 March. He is buried in Kolín.

 

Funke’s photographs are in the collections of the following museums and galleries (a selection)

Uměleckoprůmyslové museum v Praze; Moravská galerie v Brně; Muzeum umění Olomouc; Regionální muzeum v Kolíně; Oblastní muzeum v Lounech; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum Folkwang, Essen; Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg; IVAM, Valencia; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge (Mass.); Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Denver Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles Country Museum of Art; George Eastman Museum, Rochester (NY); National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo.

 

Bibliography

  • Lubomír Linhart, Jaromír Funke, Prague: SNKLHU, 1960.
  • Ludvík Souček, Jaromír Funke: Fotografie, Prague: Odeon, 1970.
  • Daniela Mrázková and Vladimír Remeš, Jaromír Funke: Fotograf und Theoretiker der moderner tschechoslowakischen Fotografie, Leipzig: Fotokinoverlag, 1986.
  • Antonín Dufek, Jaromír Funke (1896–1945): Průkopník fotografické avantgardy / Pioneering Avant-Garde Photography, Brno: Moravská galerie, 1996.
  • Antonín Dufek, Jaromír Funke, in Czech and English, Prague: Torst, 2003.
  • Antonín Dufek, Jaromír Funke: Between Construction and Emotion, Brno and Prague: Moravská galerie and KANT, 2013.
  • Gabriel Fragner, Funkeho žáci na Státní grafické škole v Praze, Opava and Prague: Institut tvůrčí fotografie FPF SU and KANT, 2016.

 

Portfolios

Jaromír Funke: Portfolio 1995, Prague: Pražský dům fotografie, 1995.

Jaromír Funke: 12 Avant-Garde Photographs, Prague: Fotoart, 2014.

 

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