Men in beards

How much a dedicated follower of fashion one must be to grow a beard or a moustache because the magazines suggest it (now commercial flyers too), I don’t know; but it happens … let’s see, a beard or a moustache are a statement of: prestige and authority (going back to history a bit), nonchalance and opposition to society’s rules, hermitisme and wisdom, a certain sense of adventure, etc. But, what if the come-back of beards combined with fancy clothes (a somehow awkward look) is an artistic attempt to even out, in a stylish and inclusive way, the look of young people of different cultural backgrounds who grow up in the same country; meaning a western country. I cross fingers for that and go back a few years, again triggered by the coming back to news-lights of a bearded man, the photographer Miroslav Tichý. Here follows a text I had written (but never published till now) about the exhibition at the Fotomuseum of The Hague with works of Gerard Petrus Fieret (NL), Anton Heyboer (NL) and Miroslav Tichý (CZ); the exhibition was titled ‘The tireless epic, Fieret-Tichý-Heyboer’.

Some things stay current (or, the basics will always haunt us) …

The first thing that attracted my attention, already before entering the hall, was the portraits of three bearded men, fitting the stereotype of the artists of the 19th century rather than of photographers of the 20th. The connection was not made in vain; as I went through their works the linking thread was revealed naturally. The exhibition showed the works of three photographers born in the 1920’s, two in Holland and one in Czechia. All three were trained painters, visual artists we would say now. With photography though they had no technical guidance; they found their way by themselves and followed it in their own terms.

Men in beards
Men in beards


The Hague Museum of Photography which hosted the exhibition ‘The tireless epic’ with the works of Gerard Petrus Fieret (NL), Anton Heyboer (NL) and Miroslav Tichý (CZ) notes that these artists arelinked not only by their chosen themes, but also by an obstinately idiosyncratic way of life’. Their chosen themes were in fact their eccentric world, external as well as internal. We see photographs of cars, women and children in the streets or inside, simply living their lives. Wherever there is posing, it is so home-made that we feel that we intrude into the private life of our naughty auntie. The particular way of depicting this life can be called eccentric as an irony to the main path of aspirations. Photographs in b/w often blurred or maltreated in the process, fill up the walls of the museum and raise questions about quality marks of any artwork. Especially for us, living surrounded by embellished images, corrected imperfections, studied to detail poses, lights and special effects, it comes almost as a shock, that a museum decides to show the real people photographed by their equals. Models and artists in this case are working on the same level; an approach to art practice that is met often in the 20th century (think of Pier Paolo Pasolini and his actors) and it continues in the 21st (think of the Michael Clark company dance project in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall during the summer of 2010).

raw material roughly stored
raw material roughly stored: the negatives of Fieret

The power of such works is timeless. Throw the garlands out of the window and you have the raw thing to battle with. But then what distinguishes these three from the amateur photographers of our families? As first, it is the perseverance; it is the volume of the work. We don’t talk about ten women photographed randomly in the street. We are talking about hundreds. These three men got obsessed with their themes and photographed them consistently for a period of time until they exhausted them. Then there is the look. An artist’s look shapes the images even when technique is neglected. The look of the artist becomes recognisable in any of his/her works as it entails the personality and the artistic vision. And last but not least is the experiment. The accompanying notes in the museum talk about the lack of interest for creating a perfect art work but even more for preserving their own work. The experimentation goes further to the home-made cameras in the case of Tichý and to the apotheosis of the ‘snap-shot’ in the case of Fieret. Heyboer should be considered as a special case, since he had even created his own model of domestic life, living in a communal farm together with his four women. Here, the experimentation is diffused between subject and medium. Heyboer, consciously retreated from society, pursues his artistic vision in that farm, photographing the daily life and his companions.

The fact that they were born so early in the 20th century puts them in discussion with modernism whether they like it or not. As still a medium under exploration in that time, photography passed to that generation as an open ground. Besides, because of its technical side and as of its social aspect, it was meant to be mainly explored by men. These three skilled painters escaped the obligation of breaking ties and boundaries in painting but got the new manly gadget and stripped it from its glorious masculinity. They saw their women through their medium standing at a retreated position, almost as from the psychoanalysis sofa. They disdained social and artistic achievements but built their creative vision in a secluded domesticity. They almost missed post acknowledgement out of honest negligence.

P.S.1 back- to-basics reminder (always useful)

P.S.2 One of the articles I recently came across shows many of Tichýs photographs and the photographer himself with his self-made cameras (text in Greek): recent article about Tichý

P.S.3 See the beauty of real women through the eyes of an artist :

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