When in 1966 Czech photographer Jan Lukas /born 1915 in České Budějovice, died 2006 in New York/ moved from Europe to USA with his whole family, he was already over fifty.
For the following decades, streets and people of New York became an inexhaustible source and object of his photographic travel. Pictures taken in this period were later collected in several books and exhibition assemblages /The Islanders, New York 1987; Amerika nach Kafka, Praha 1993; exhibition Pompeii/Manhattan, Praha 2002/. He always stressed that he had not emigrated to America, nor to New York, but to the Island of Manhattan.
There he met many friends, some of whom had gone into exile before the Second World War, others had emigrated after the 1948 communist takeover. Among them were the family of Radio Free Europe’s political commentator Ferdinand Peroutka, passionately hated by the communists; many Peroutka’s colleagues, such as Radio Free Europe’s staffer Jiří Planner; politician and journalist Ivo Ducháček, well known from Martin Čermák’s programme Notebook /Zápisník/ of the Voice of America; Alexander Hammid and Ladislav Kolda from Zlín; the legendary actor Jiří Voskovec; doctor Karel Steinbach, beloved by all, and others. In their home country all these people were officially considered to be traitors and as such intended to be erased from national memory.
In addition to them Jan Lukas portrayed also visitors from his home country, such as Jiří Šlitr, whom he met in the early times of Semafor theatre. In 1968 he accompanied and photographed young Václav Havel during his journey to Czech exile celebrities, and years after in 1999 again. His black and white portraits of friends as well as casual snapshots offer glimpses of Czech America of 60’, 70’ and 80’, a look at a diverse community, Czech people were aware of only through foreign radio broadcasts and smuggled exile literature.
The motley mixture of races and cultures, the unrepeatable and ever changing atmosphere of the American city, was captured by him in colours as well. In these compositions he advanced his lifetime endeavour to express the beauty, as well as the dark side of the world. New York diary 1966–1999 exhibition probes into this large, but little known part of Jan Lukas’ artistic legacy.
© Jan Mlčoch, curator