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City by its backdoors

EVERY city has a story. The book of photos, Bratislava by the Backdoors, tells the story of Bratislava from 1918 to 2005, and shows how the course of time has affected the city and its development. It does so with subtlety, not with coverage of key political and historical events, or pictures of politicians shaking hands, but by showing Bratislava through its backdoors - its lesser known places and its inhabitants living, or trying to live, their normal lives.

Viliam Malík's photograph of the Apollo refinery bombing in 1944.
photo: Courtesy of Fotofo

EVERY city has a story. The book of photos, Bratislava by the Backdoors, tells the story of Bratislava from 1918 to 2005, and shows how the course of time has affected the city and its development. It does so with subtlety, not with coverage of key political and historical events, or pictures of politicians shaking hands, but by showing Bratislava through its backdoors - its lesser known places and its inhabitants living, or trying to live, their normal lives.

The book, which has a bilingual Slovak-English text, is also an overview of the development of documentary photography over the last century. Its 180 pages feature photos by 51 photographers, including René Burry from Switzerland, Jaromír Funke and Josef Koudelka from the Czech Republic, and Karol Kállay, Pavol Breier and Lucia Nimcová from Slovakia.

The oldest photos were taken by Eduard Kozič and date back to the 1860s. They show Bratislava as a completely different city than it is today - small, multi-ethnic, and sprinkled with remnants of its royal history.

Later photos document the changes in Bratislava's skyline. In some of them, Manderlák, Bratislava's first "skyscraper", casts a shadow over the town, even though it was only 11 stories high. These days, it is overshadowed out by newer buildings in the city centre.

Some of the pictures depict Bratislava castle in ruins, with its enclosure walls the last bits remaining, recalling the times when people with no attachment to the city were deciding its development.

This was the period during which the decision to build the current New Bridge over the Danube was made. The bridge may have won the title of best Slovak construction project of the century, but it cut into the living flesh of the city, and was the reason why a whole part of the old town was demolished.

A photo by Viliam Malík from 1944 shows the bombing of the Apollo refinery, a site which lent its name to the fifth bridge over the Danube, which was completed last year.

Pictures by Igor Grossman, Tomki Němec and Yuri Dojč show concrete housing blocks, a socialist plague that Bratislava was not able to avoid.

Another highlight is Ladislav Bielik's well-known photo of a man exposing his bare chest to a tank cannon during the occupation of Bratislava by Warsaw Pact forces. This photo was selected as one of the 100 best worldwide.

Bratislava by the Backdoors marks the 15th anniversary of the Month of Photography festival, and contains photos of its participants, but one hopes that Fotofo and the Central European House of Photography will continue the project also in the future.

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