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Review: Photographs capture harsh village life

Demanding notice just opposite Comenius University in downtown Bratislava is a huge billboard with a black and white photograph of a lonely man walking back to his village after a day in the fields. Passerbys stop in their busy tracks to pause in front of this image, a reflection on 20th century Slovakia's storied village past.
More is to be found inside the Slovak Art Union hall next to the billboard, where an exhibition of pictures by photographer Martin Martinček and a 40 minute video paralleling the photos is on display.
The photographs, taken in the late 1960s, capture the lives of people who had spent their entire life in their village. These aren't just pictures of ordinary people in rough conditions, but a nostalgic tribute to a generation who faced the harsh elements and lived life fully.


Martin Martinček's exhibition - 20th Century Man.
foto: Courtesy of Art Institute

20th Century Man - Exhibition of Slovak photographer Martin Martinček

Where: Umelecká beseda, Dostojevského rad 2
Runs till: January 30
Open: Tues.-Fri., 13:00-18:00
Fee: 30 Sk, 20 Sk for students

Demanding notice just opposite Comenius University in downtown Bratislava is a huge billboard with a black and white photograph of a lonely man walking back to his village after a day in the fields. Passerbys stop in their busy tracks to pause in front of this image, a reflection on 20th century Slovakia's storied village past.

More is to be found inside the Slovak Art Union hall next to the billboard, where an exhibition of pictures by photographer Martin Martinček and a 40 minute video paralleling the photos is on display.

The photographs, taken in the late 1960s, capture the lives of people who had spent their entire life in their village. These aren't just pictures of ordinary people in rough conditions, but a nostalgic tribute to a generation who faced the harsh elements and lived life fully.

The overwhelming sensation from the photos is sadness. The tired eyes of old women, the wet tears of a man on his death bed, the determined tight-lipped woman on the way to Mass - all stir a sense of loss. The poor living conditions - dirt roads, no electricity, wood-stove heating - and the poor health, some old people have no teeth, one doesn't have a leg - shown in the photos paint a dark picture. But upon leaving the exhibition the lasting impression is that the lives shown demand respect not pity.

Martinček had what he called God's gift with a camera. His family was forced to move from a village in the Central Slovak region Liptov to a city in the 1950's because the communists wanted to transform the rural countryside into a modern society. He is Slovakia's most famous photographer and his photographs inspired Dušan Hanák's classic film "Pictures from the Old World", one of the best Slovak films ever made.

The exhibition also presents three short movies following Martiček as he shot his pictures by Czechoslovak television in the late 60's shown together in a 40 minute video. The black and white films put to moving pictures what Martinček already immortalised in print.

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