Šťastná rodina (A Happy Family) shot by Pavol Socháň.
Where: Galéria Profil, Prepoštská 4 (13:00 - 18:00, every day but Monday)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pavol Socháň (1862-1941) was a painter, ethnographer, publicist, and amateur playwright. But he was most famous for his photography. Working at the turn of the 20th century, he captured the rural Slovak idyll at a time when nobody else cared to, then became a tireless ambassador for Slovak culture abroad. In Prague he published over 400 post-card photographs which were spread to Slovaks living in Yugoslavia and the Czech province, and in 1917 he conducted a lecture on Slovakia at the Metropolitan Muzeum of Arts in New York.
Running through September 4, a collection of his simple and poignant work is on display at Galéria Profil. The 31 black and white photos, including eight landscape photos and 23 portraits, are straightforward, vivid glimpses of life as it was lived in Slovakia 100 years ago.
The eight landscape photographs are beautiful because Slovakia is beautiful. Several are so picturesque they actually appear to be paintings. "View of Landscape", taken in Brezová, looks like something out of the the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine. The fields at a distance resemble a zebra's stripes, the clusters of white houses seem to be pebbles, the town church might be a cartoon rocket ship about to blast off.
The portraits are a mixed bag of posed and semi-spontaneous shots. Many of them feature young woman in traditional Slovak attire - long white dresses with intricate embroidery. In one shot, the subjects are washing laundry in a river; in another, sorting through pottery at a marketplace. The collection also includes a self-portrait, and a photograph of the famous Slovak writer Svetozár Hurban Vajanský, a philosopher and linguist whose name marks a street in nearly every Slovak city.
Socháň's photographs, taken so long ago, have an eerie and touching quality. His subjects are so sharp, it's hard to imagine that they have long been dead. Paradoxically, it's difficult to imagine that only three or four generations back, life in Slovakia was so modest compared to today.
Many technological advances have occured in the last 100 years. But when comparing Socháň's photographs with contemporary work, it's interesting to note that while the changes in subject material are self-evident, advances in the art of photography are not so apparent.
14. Aug 2000 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds