Zoe Wiseman Zoe Wiseman

Frantisek Drtikol by Katerina Klaricova

(c) Collectors Photography, 1987 All rights reserved.

Used with permission by Jeff Dunas http://www.dunas.com


"In art, the last word is never said and a work is in fact created only so that it may, in a special way, generate another work in everyone... the greater the number of methods of realization, the wider the whole sphere -- the wider the horizon that opens up and the greater the contribution to the integration of the methods of expression of human spirit." Frantisek Kupka

In 1901 Frantisek Drtikol, then apprentice ot the photographer Mattas in Pribram, read in the monthly Das Atelier des Photographen of the opening of a two-year specialized school of photography in Munich at the Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt fur Photographie.

After the two years of study, Drtikol not only won the school's first prize, but took away a perfect knowledge of the complicated techniques of the creative process. He also received that most precious of gifts -- the wisdom of his professors, represented by the motto of the school: Ars una, species mille.

In 1910 Drtikol became the owner of his own studio, with portrait photography as his specialty.

The overall impression of the techniques of high standard prints, manipulation of the negative, color toning, plastic lighting, evident stressing of the relative masses of the subjects and their tone values, in both the portraits and the studio nudes, gives the artist's personal touch and the literary-decorative symbolism of the turn of the century.

Gradually, light, space and movement in Drtikol's photographs became newly built architectures. A woman's body, which has, for thousands of years, been a creative element for artists, is contrasted with the abruptly built scenic decoration.

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The photographs from the 1920s are mostly printed on pigment paper: Drtikol not only simplified form but did the same for technique.

In 1925, he was invited to exhibit at the World Exhibition of Decorative Art in Paris. He thus took his place as one of the few photographers in the continuaus artistic development in Europe, beginning with the Art Nouveau period and appearing as a "phenomenon" around 1925.

Photography was then included in the series of graphic decorative arts, such as scenography, architecture, book illustrations and so on.

The 1930s were the summit of his photographic work in its philosophical sense. They witness Drtikol's inconstant and unquiet spirit, which no longer considered even expensive decoration of the living model as a means that could enable him to express his artistic vision. He described the photographs of those years as "photo-purism -- a kind of abstract photography." He adapted everything - the model, decoration and lighting - to his own feeling.

His work is a kind of synthesis of the period's graphic thought within the graphic culture of the years 1910-1930 in Europe. He describes that unquiet spirit of Europe, as thirsting for rebirth, searching in past architectures. And this is the source of Drtikol's lifelong study in the field of Eastern philosophies, mystical literature and occult books. His work is a unique document that reflects the search for new light in the photographic medium.

Drtikol's extensive work and the greatness of his spirit compel us to appraise his personality in a diverse manner. In this short deliberation, we shall not concern ourselves with listing all the style-forming components that created this manner of expression. Our interest will be centered rather on the point at which he arrived during his unique search in the sphere of the photographic medium. We shall try to reveal his language, to show how he worked with Light and Form in Space. We shall inquire into the creative world of an all-round artist-philosopher.

We set out from the materials that he handed over to the Arts and Crafts Museum in Prague in 1942 when, at the same time, he also submitted authenic personal evidence of his quest in the field of photography in the years from 1901 to 1935.

Drtikol earned his living as a studio photographer, and his estate included several commissioned photographs. Apart from ordinary customers, illustrious home and foreign personages had their portraits taken in his studio in the years 1910-1935. In the course of his work, the photographer applied not only his artistic talent, but also the abilities of a psychologist. He created the most favorable atmosphere in his studio, studied his customer and faithfully portrayed not only the individual's appearance, but also his character as well.

To illustrate the way in which the work was carried out in the studio of Drtikol and Company, we present the literal text of the firm's advertisement: "Our studio operates exclusively without an upper light. This new trend in modern portrait photography (after the model of the foreign studios of world photographic artists) guarantees an absolutely faithful portrait, because as the result of natural lighting on one hand and his own feeling of ease in a studio furnished in the style of a home on the other hand, the portraited person maintains his individual expression. Artistically composed portraits in a stylish environment developed on the best, absolutely durable printing material: mat albumin, in pigment, in platinum on real Japan, in an oil print (the character of a drawing) and in a rubber print. Photographs of children. Photographs taken in the customer's own home. Enlargements in an oil print and rubber print of unlimited durability. The head of our enterprise graduated 'with special honors' from the state's two-year school of graphic art in Munich."

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In his landscape, nude, still-life and reportage studies, Drtikol manifested himself even more strikingly as an artist-director-philosopher. He photographically recorded arranged photogenic pictures and, in a photographic plane, depicted ideas still under the influence of his education in painting, historizing and period art tendencies (realism, symbolism, the Art Nouveau, expressionism). For the realization of many of his photograph, he used the human body and especially a female nude, drawing attention to it beauty, diversity and erotic character. He applied it as a building element in numerous interior compositions. He helped it to enter a given space as a living, malleable element. Above all, Drtikol endeavored to record an idea in Space with the aid of Light, Form and Movement, and as a result, his individual photographic language came into being - an idea was born from matter.

Light creates space, demarcates and imbues it with a feeling of mystery, endlessness, depth; it draws attention and it emphasizes.

Shade fills a space between objects and draws attention to the intangible and the magical qualities; it is a communication element.

Halted Movement draws attention to the infinite boundaries of space, which is an important and vital element giving birth to an idea.

Space is the page of a book with its own language and its own graphic layout - composition.

A composition of elements in space draws attention to its substantiality; it creates tnesion, a supernatural atmosphere and a new reality, and at the same time indicates a flow of ideas.

Drtikol quit photography in 1935. He left us a unique heritage - some one thousand photographs with a legible manuscript. Visible and tangible proof of a man's artistic and philosophical development. Photography - a medium of the 20th Century - led him from descriptive symbolism to optical abstraction. It was a unique experiment that will undoubtedly serve as a source of inspiration to future generations.

Katerina Klaricova
Prague, 1982

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