Transitional Frames: From Normalisation to Democracy Czech and Slovak Art Photography (1968-1998)

Gortazar, P. 2018. Transitional Frames: From Normalisation to Democracy Czech and Slovak Art Photography (1968-1998). PhD thesis University of Westminster Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media

TitleTransitional Frames: From Normalisation to Democracy Czech and Slovak Art Photography (1968-1998)
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsGortazar, P.

This thesis studies the development of art photography practices in Czechoslovakia throughout the Normalisation period (1968-1989) and the decade following the collapse of Communism in the country (1989-1998). Its aim is to analyse the relationship between the production of art photographs and the shifting socio-political context during these years, with the intention of understanding the different creative strategies applied by Czechoslovakian photographers to preserve their artistic autonomy despite the existing censorship under the communist rule, as well as their artistic evolution following the establishment of a democratic and capitalist system in 1989.

The project has been carried out from the perspective of the social history of art, which implies an analysis of artworks taking into account the presence of relevant social structures affecting its production, such as the different institutions and ‘formations’ operating during the studied period, the concrete biographical circumstances of each artist and their specific relations with power structures. The research has been developed using a variety of methods, including the collection of primary research material from various photographic archives and private collections, as well as twenty interviews with the main actors of the photography scene of the time. A latter semiotic analysis of photographs has served to disclose a range of ‘coded
messages’ in their images, often revealing the hidden critical content of the work.

I would argue that the political context present during Normalisation years and its resulting social structures determined the development of art photography in Czechoslovakia at different levels, including not only its material production, content and style, but also the way these photographs were distributed and communicated through exhibitions and publications. This took place within a photography scene that was clearly divided into official and unofficial spheres of practice, but where ‘inner migrations’ constantly took place among those photographers who aimed to earn a living and communicate their work while simultaneously
protecting their artistic autonomy. I would also argue that, although it would be very difficult to generalise the changes observed in their practice after 1989, it is possible to envisage certain tendencies among their work that suggest that the political transition that took place since 1989 produced different effects depending on the photographic style at stake.


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