Review: When I was and was not at Home

Mišo Suchý, a Slovak immigrant to the United States, is a photographer by trade, not a writer. Yet he is at times as nimble with words as with a camera: "Capitalism and communism: one is covered in gold, the other is made of iron, but both are cheeks of the same ass. The problem arises when you find yourself somewhere in between."
Suchý found himself in that precarious position of an immigrant coming from behind the former 'Iron Curtain' in 1988 when, at 22, he followed his future wife from Czechoslovakia to the United States. Keď som bol a nebol doma (When I Was and Was Not at Home), is a collection of photographs from his time caught in the crack between East and West.


As the author points out in his book, Mišo Suchy translated into English means Mike Dry.

Keď som bol a nebol doma (When I was and was not at Home)

By: Mišo Suchý
English Text: Yes
Price: 120 crowns
Available at: Galéria Fotografie Profil, Prepoštská 4.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Mišo Suchý, a Slovak immigrant to the United States, is a photographer by trade, not a writer. Yet he is at times as nimble with words as with a camera: "Capitalism and communism: one is covered in gold, the other is made of iron, but both are cheeks of the same ass. The problem arises when you find yourself somewhere in between."

Suchý found himself in that precarious position of an immigrant coming from behind the former 'Iron Curtain' in 1988 when, at 22, he followed his future wife from Czechoslovakia to the United States. Keď som bol a nebol doma (When I Was and Was Not at Home), is a collection of photographs from his time caught in the crack between East and West.

More so than just coming to terms with the incongruenties of communism and capitalism, the book's themes also touch on his struggle for personal balance, a dilemma Suchý solves by maintaining a strong presence in his work. In the beauty, laughter, and never-ending supply of irony throughout the book's diverse locales are reflections of Suchý himself. Finding the familiar in the unfamiliar becomes his anchor.

In the first of the books four sections, Military Preparations, Suchý depicts the dreaded Slovak (then Czechoslovak) compulsory military service in a humorous light. His drill sergeant looks like a lovably inept cartoon villain and his pictures of Army Day - in which children got to mingle with soldiers, try on gas masks and sit in tanks - make boot camp seem more like summer camp.

In In America, Suchý finds himself in the middle of a similar comedy of imposed orderliness. A blossoming photographer and filmmaker in Czechoslovakia, Suchý had to take a job as a dog-handler's assistant in the states because he spoke almost no English. Within the lavishly groomed bizarreness of dog shows, he contrasts the grace of the animals with the silliness of their masters. In one shot, ten sharply dressed dog-owners kneel down in a column with their ten lily-white poodles. In another, one such poodle stands gloriously erect (that is, both standing erect and standing with an erection), gazing contemplatively out his cage.

In Postcards from Overseas the reader gets Suchý's take on American life. In one shot we see the regulated servings of amusement waterpark 'fun', while in another, a tin deer-shaped shooting target with hundreds of bullet holes. Like the rest of the book, no judgements are passed - Suchý uses irony and a sense of absurdity to play with the world, not criticise it.

Ked som bol a nebol doma is almost like a movie - each shot is part of a larger context with Suchý's intelligent, laid-back narrative guiding the way. By keeping his playful curiosity, Suchý finds a secure place in the world, wherever he may go.

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