Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

The Unseen

Jul 02, 2016 - Tereza Zelenkova

    The first photograph I’d like to talk about is The Unseen. I get asked quite often how this sits within the series and what has been the inspiration for the image. Although I rarely stage my photographs, I had a quite clear vision of this particular photograph. It is an amalgamation of two themes that somehow merged in my mind and crystalized into this heavily distilled vision that I then went on to stage and photograph.   Ever since I remember, I’ve been interested in photography’s peculiar relationship with death. It may sound like a cliché now but it can’t be denied that photography, similarly as a reflection in a mirror, offers the viewer aside of the image of his or her likeness also a glimpse of his or her mortality. Moreover, as Václav Vanek writes* when he talks about the loneliness and “deathly anxiety that we feel when, while trying to find a companion, we keep finding only a mirror image of ourselves and ultimately our death, which is always present in such mirroring”.   Photography offers us both a promise of immortality alongside the reminder of our discontinuity. At the same time, due to its peculiar relationship with time, its strange stillness and minute detail it promises to reveal a bit more, something beyond the ordinary image of ourselves, or the everyday reality. It lures us to believe that it can see what’s unseen to the naked eye, that it can trespass the ordinary notion of time, and even blur the thresholds between the worlds of living and those long gone. Most of the people will be probably familiar with spirit photography, in which the 19th century society believed to find a way of communicating with their deceased loved ones. What’s interesting to note in this case is that the automatism of photographic medium was one of the key elements in this wide spread belief of photography’s ability to capture the world of spirits. Automatism of photography suggested the medium’s detachment from the cognitive processes of the human brain and its ability to tap into the unconscious, be it individual or collective. Automatism played a vital role not only in communicating with spirits, but also in early modernist art, especially in Surrealism. We have remarkable examples of automatic drawings, paintings or writings. In the Czech Republic, there’s a very special collection of such automatic drawings from the early 20th century, that however don’t come from avant-garde artists but from ordinary people found in one small region right at the foot of the tallest Czech mountain range, Krkonoše (Giant Mountains in English). From the end of the 19th century up until 1945, there seemed to be a golden age of Spiritism, that was however very unique to the region due to people’s relative isolation, living in the secluded farmhouses scattered at the foot of the mountains and meeting at each other’s houses for regular Spiritistic séances mainly held to bring back relatives who died during the war. The local people often used automatic drawing to receive hallucinatory visions from the other side and the collections of these remarkable drawings can be found in a museum in Nova Paka, but their notoriety goes well beyond the Czech borders as some of the finest examples of the so called Art Brut.   So this is the first ingredient of my photograph. The second one is much more visual and comes as a snippet from a Czech fairytale Goldielocks, written by one of the most famous Czech 19th century writers, Karel Jaromír Erben. The scene that I used as a base for my photograph comes from the 1970’s version of the tale and it is a moment when the main hero needs to recognize Goldielocks, the princess with golden hair, amongst her twelve sisters, even though their hair is covered with a veil. I’ve always found the scene rather surreal and it immediately connected for me with the popular image of ghosts. There’s also something ritualistic and esoteric about the whole thing.     * In an introduction to a J.J. Kolár’s short story At The Red Dragon’s in a compilation of Czech Romantic prose.