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Miroslav Tichý (1926-2011)
gelatin silver print on paper in artist's frame
image: 8⅜ x 4¾in. (21.2 x 12cm.)
framed: 23⅞ x 18¼in. (60.6 x 46.4cm.)
Executed circa 1950s-1980s


Tichý Océan Foundation.
Haunch of Venison, London.

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A cult figure in the history of photography, Miroslav Tichý first gained a foothold in the international art scene at the 2004 Seville Biennial and subsequent solo shows at the Pompidou Centre, Paris in 2008, and the International Centre of Photography, New York in 2010. These shows cemented his place in the canon of modern photography and reflected the esteem in which he is held by artists such as Thomas Ruff, Michael Nyman, Jonathan Meese and Fishli & Weiss. Taking up the medium in the late 1950s, Tichý constructed his cameras from the ephemera of the streets: from old soup tins, the elastic from the waistband of an old pair of shorts, drain pipes and cardboard. Using spectacles for lenses, which he polished with toothpaste and cigarette ash, the very trappings of his art reflect the austerity in which he lived and his innate craftsmanship. He employed these constructions, at once hideously primitive and hugely innovative, to take clandestine images of individuals, predominately women, in and around his locality. The images he produced are very rarely in focus; they are tattered, torn, exposed to the elements, subjected to the kind of treatment that could constitute photographic cruelty. Yet, teetering on the brink of legibility, liable to dissolve into protoplasms of light and form, they register a poise and a pathos of vitality and human sexuality that transcends the gritty economy of materials from which they were created.

Untitled and undated, the works are the tokens of a ceaseless obsession with the way his practice became inseparable from his way of life. The hand-drawn frames and other graphic modifications he made to the images contain the traces of his previous work as a painter. The tradition of picture making in which he can be considered is one that harks back to Baudelaire and the notion of a city flaneur voyeuristically inscribing the scenes of his urban experience. Nevertheless Tichý’s work, with its slippages between the private and the public, its frequent dissolutions of the figurative into the abstract and its refutation of photography’s indexical or factual qualities mark his oeuvre as distinctively post-modern. The chance encounter and the fleeting moment is not, as in the work of Eugene Atget or August Sander, a definitive record of time and place, rather, in Tichý’s work it is presented as a painterly impression that is embedded with palpable subjectivity.

Who was Miroslav Tichý? Learn more about the artist’s life and work in our feature article here.
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