Vladimír Židlický: Retrospective

A lesson in manipulation

Manipulation has played a part in the history of photography from its earliest days. Its pioneers experimented with optics and chemistry, Man Ray created his ‘Rayographs’ by placing objects directly onto the surface of the paper, and more recently Gregory Crewdson has employed cinematic production standards to his work - manipulation has always been there as a tool for photographers to utilise.

Vladimír Židlický (b.1945) is an artist that has used a range of manipulation in his work for over three decades. Graduating from the FAMU Department of Photography in 1975 he holds a place in the pantheon of Czech imaginative photography. Originally an abstract painter he went on to experiment with photography in order to expand his creative output.

My drive to manually interfere with photographs has probably been motivated by my painter’s past…My intuitive notion of what photography should be prevented me from considering the photograph complete without further intervention.’ - Vladimír Židlický, 2009.

His exhibition at the Prague House of Photography traces this process of intervention from early experiments with scratched and gouged negatives through to the digital manipulation in some of his colour works. Set over the two floors of the gallery the first section contains his gelatin silver prints as well as a small collection of work with ferrotypes, an 18th Century technique of producing images directly onto metal plates.

Subjects include what could loosely be described as landscapes and still lifes but it’s the shape and motion of the human form that dominates his work. Some images contain only portions of the body while others are based around elaborate groups of dancing or lounging figures. Some of the manipulation - holes replacing heads, or torsos scratched and scarred – suggest a violent side to his work whereas others rely upon softer forms of intervention such as long exposure and soft focus, or streaks of additional light.

In addition to manipulative processes Židlický is also concerned with the narrative of classical art, referencing several artists in the titles of his pictures. This might be conceited if done clumsily but his nods to the past are clearly made and delivered without vanity, and if anything the acknowledgements serve as a technique to highlight the links between his photography and painting.

On the second floor of the gallery his experimentation continues with his colour pieces. Soft pastel-toned pieces appear alongside ones with blocks of colour that call to mind Eighties advertising work.

Once you begin working with colour, you cannot stop: you keep going, exploring other means of expression to meet your choices. Colour takes over.’ - Vladimír Židlický, 2009.

With his colour pictures there is the feeling that his manipulation is adding something rather than taking it away: bodies and faces are clearer and eyes are meeting your gaze rather than fading into the shadows. As with his black and white images he manages to avoid repetition by evolving and developing his style, embracing the new techniques that technology offers, and it’s exactly this openness to different means of expression that make this exhibition a success. Židlický looks all around him, backwards to past masters and old photographic techniques, and forwards to see where the next change is coming from, and above all it’s this sense of experimentation and progression that makes his work intriguing. If you’re not familiar with Vladimír Židlický then you should take this opportunity to enjoy an impressive and well structured exhibition while you can.

Vladimír Židlický: Retrospektiva, until 26th April, Tuesday to Sunday 10:00-18:00
Entrance: 120kč (96kč with an Opencard)
Prague House of Photography, Revoluční 5, Praha 1

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