Socially Conscious Photography in Interwar Czechoslovakia

14. 9. — 28. 10. 2012
Represented authors: Tibor Honty, Irena Blühová, Oldřich Straka, Karol Aufricht, Ilja J. Marko, Josef Kubin, Ján Halász, Sergej Protopopov, Josef Zeman, Karel Hájek and Viliam Tóth.

The exhibition as a whole gives evidence of the exceptional unity of aesthetic and political aims of the time, while illustrating changing opportunities given by the swift technical development of the media.

In the variegated political environment of the First Republic, the leftist movement had held strong position, strengthened further by the economic crisis. In striving for the improvement of living conditions, the photos published in newspapers and magazines played a crucial role. From a perspective of historiography, the later use of the photos by the communist propaganda as a means of criticising capitalist political system is interesting. Aside from the progress of printing techniques, two exhibitions organised by Lubomír Linhart under the auspices of the Left Front in 1933 and 1934 had pivotal importance for the development of the genre. In Slovakia, the Sociofoto group was active at the same time (1933–1937). Some of the authors represented at the exhibition were not only socially conscious journalists on a political mission. Beginning with the twenties, the photography started to free itself from technically complicated cameras and with the boom of  “fast hand-held cameras”, artists familiar with the newest trends set out on the new journey as well, as the pictures of Irena Blühová, composed in avant-garde style, convincingly show.

A couple of dozens of the exhibited works belong to a private collection of socially conscious photographs located in Prague, part of which was shown at the international exhibition of socially conscious photography Camera as Weapon in San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts in 1993. The last major presentation of this kind, A Hard, Merciless Light: Worker-Photography Movement 1926-39, organised in Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid in 2011, has been an inspiration for us in naming the present show.

Curator: Pavel Vančát


Irena Blühová (1904–1991)
She started photographing in 1924, focusing on socially conscious photography of Slovak countryside. Between 1931 and 1933, she studied photography and typography at Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. With the school closed by the Nazis, she returned to Bratislava, where she ran a bookshop. With her friends from leftist intellectual circles, she founded the group Sociofoto. John Heartfield used the photos by Irena Blühová for his photo-montages.

Oldřich Straka (1906–1983)
During the 1930s Great Depression, he worked as a photo-reporter for various newspapers and magazines (eg. Ahoj na sobotu, Pestrý týden, Svět práce). His work was also published by several foreign agencies. Although he was self-taught, his photographs had a well-balanced composition revealing a great eye for both long shots and close ups. He portrayed the homeless, beggars, and the poorest class of Prague's workers and small country farmers. Before WWII, he started working in advertising for Baťa in Zlín, where he learnt more about photography, eventually staying until the end of the war. He never returned to reportage photography and in 1945, he started working in a photography department of Centrotex and the Czechoslovak Chamber of Commerce. From 1956, he also devoted his time to colour landscape photography and to documentary photography mapping the local folklore.

Karol Aufricht (1910–1975)
He started with photography in 1926, first concerning himself with nature, later focusing on socially conscious photography. From 1934–1938, he was a member of the group Sociofoto. Between 1954 and 1975, he worked as an editor in the daily Hlas ľudu.

Ilja Jozef Marko (1907–1980)
A founder and an editor of the literary magazine Postup, he wrote socially aware poetry. In 1938, he published a book of documentary, socially conscious photographs from Dornkappel, a blue collar neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bratislava. Above all, he was interested in socially aware, reportage photography, just as Oldřich Straka and in part also Tibor Honty and Irena Blühová.

Tibor Honty (1907–1968)

Tibor Honty was a Slovak photographer, an author of a sculpture photography collection, and a series of critical documentary photographs from the 1930s, from 1945, when the Red Army liberated Prague, and from the lives of the people living in eastern Slovakia. He was one of the distinguished photographers who worked with the illustrated magazine Pestrý týden.

Josef Kubín (1864–1965)

Ján Halász (Data not available)

Sergej Protopopov (1895–1976)
He published his work in illustrated newspapers and magazines and was one of the founders of Slovak reportage photography. From 1957–1967, he worked as a methodology expert on photography and film in a public educational centre in Banská Bystrica. Later on, he became the head of the centre's film studio.

Josef Zeman (Data not available)

Karel Hájek (1900–1978)
A famous reporter of the Czech News Agency, he portrayed everyday life as well as socially charged issues. He photographed several presidents: Masaryk, Beneš, Hácha, and Gottwald; even becoming Beneš's personal photographer. In 1932, he started working in the publishing house Melantrich. His photos were published in the magazines Svět v obrazech and Pestrý týden as well as in a number of foreign magazines. He enjoyed taking pictures of wild animals.

Viliam Tóth (Data not available)

THE LEFT FRONT (Levá fronta) was an organization of Czech left-wing intellectuals. Founded in 1929, it replaced Devětsil – the Union of Modern Culture, with the aim to promote socialist culture and to organize collaboration of the progressive intelligence with the working class. Its founding members included Karel Teige, Stanislav Kostka Neumann, Bedřich Václavek, and Julius Fučík. Among later members of the organizations were Ivan Sekanina, Ladislav Štoll, Vladislav Vančura, the architects Karel Honzík, Jiří Kroha, Lubomír Linhart, Jiří Novotný, and many others.

The Left Front organized lectures, evening discussions and exhibitions. It also published the magazine Levá fronta (1930-1933) as well as leftist, especially political literature. The organization set up its branches in several towns, for example in Brno, and was divided into specialized sections (for architecture; economy; philosophy; medicine; literature; social science; and film and photography). The Left Front was eventually dissolved in 1938.

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