‘A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.’ Diane Arbus
The exhibition of works by Pavel Baňka will be open in the Václav Špála Gallery from the second week in September 2011. It will comprise photographs covering the wide spectrum of approaches Baňka uses to engage in visual dialogue with the essence of his medium. Baňka has used the spaces of the gallery to create heterogeneous units that freely flow one into the other. The exhibition will present more than a hundred photographs of various formats: intimate comments from the photographer’s personal archive, abstract and minimalist pictures, colour and black-and-white photos, analogue and digital photos, figurative works and landscapes – all as a conceptualized commentary on the history of photography to the present day and on the photographer’s personal life.
In the late 1970s Baňka became a striking solo figure of Czech photography, not affiliated with any group or movement. He has regularly exhibited his works in prestigious galleries in the Czech Republic and abroad, and his photographs have become part of many important collections all over the world. For a number of years Baňka has been devoting himself to teaching young artists in the field. During the last two decades he has been teaching at American and British universities, and since 1995 has been in charge of the Photography Studio at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design, Purkyně University, Ústí nad Labem. In 2002 he co-founded Fotograf magazine, and since that time has been its Editor-in-Chief.
Baňka began to work with the curator Martina Pachmanová in the mid-1990s. A previous project together was Baňka’s Infinity exhibition in the Galerie Rudolfinum, in 2001, which was later shown in galleries abroad. Their collaboration at the Václav Špála Gallery is taking place exactly ten years later.
Pavel Baňka’s ‘On Photography’, an exhibition at the Václav Špála Gallery, Prague
by Martina Pachmanová, art historian and curator
Last year, when I opened Pavel Baňka’s exhibition ‘Z mého života (Fotografie 1955–2010)’ (From My Life: Photographs, 1955–2010), I recalled the words of Charles Baudelaire. On the occasion of the 1846 Paris Salon, he wrote ‘Memory is the great criterion of art’. Baňka’s making his own photo archive public was more a review of his own life recorded in intimate, direct, and somewhat amateur photos rather than it was a show of grand art photographs. That is to say, it was primarily connected with human memory, remembering and forgetting. As the photographer himself said at the time, it was a matter of ‘personal archaeology’. ‘As I uncovered more and more layers of my old negatives,’ he wrote, ‘I gradually found buried memories of situations and relations, which the photos reminded me of (often with unexpected intensity).’
Though Baňka’s work has always been essentially linked with time, I believe that only with the ‘From My Life’ exhibition did he go beyond nostalgia and the semi-pathos (albeit pathos that was postmodernly ironic) of many of his previous works, in which, by means of self-quotation and superbly constructed photographic images, he came to the core of personal and collective memory.
In Baňka’s drawing up a balance sheet of past achievements and failures an eruption of the poetical nature of the ordinary and everyday took place, revealing hidden layers of lost time with an uncommon lightness, obviousness, and also energy. The mural mosaic of autobiographical photographs, following on from the method used at the ‘From My Life’ exhibition, now, a year later, appears in the rooms of the Špála Gallery. As many times before, Baňka is now returning to his early works in new contexts. This is not, however, a matter of recycling or even resuscitating.
In the context of this exhibition, whose title, ‘On Photography’, evokes, and by no means coincidentally, Susan Sontag’s book of the same name, it is far more a matter of a highly personal conceptualization of the medium of photography. Whereas in the previous exhibition he drew up a balance sheet of his life, he is now drawing up a balance sheet of the medium of photography itself. The exhibition, comprising various heterogeneous elements on the one hand reveals the diversity of Baňka’s work, which runs from the classic portrait to strikingly conceptual landscape photography and minimalism, and, on the other hand, it manifests an aesthetic and semantic breadth of the photographic image.
The ‘On Photography’ exhibition is, however, again, in the Baudelairean sense, chiefly about memory. Nor this time is it a matter of a photographic record of history or, as Roland Barthes puts it, a frozen moment as evidence of an historical event. Baňka, to mark his seventieth birthday (and the awareness of time slipping away has surely become an important impulse for him to contemplate both his own work and photography in general) he conceived the exhibition as a commentary on photography past and present. The collage-like character of the exhibition, in which the photographer does not distinguish between analogue and digital and in which the viewer finds himself or herself in a panoptikon of negatives and positives, wholes and blown-up details, sharp contours and pictures that have been broken apart (pixelated), not only demonstrates everything that photography is, but also how it conceals. In Baňka’s rendition the photograph disrupts the linearity of time and space, it resists order and logic. It is selective, subjective, volatile. Like memory.
CV — Pavel Baňka
Pavel Baňka was born in Prague, on 20 March 1941. He graduated from the Czech University of Technology in 1963. From 1964 to 1966 he was, together with Václav Hrabě, Inka Machulková, and Vlaďka Čerepková, a member of a Czech beatnik group. He has devoted himself to photography since the 1970s, when he quit his job as a research worker and began his career as a free-lance art photographer. He has worked for the periodicals Domov (Home), Bydlení (Living), and Československý architekt (Czechoslovak Architect), but since the early 1990s has devoted himself exclusively to non-commercial photography. Of particular importance to him are his long stays in the USA, where he has sojourned several times as a visiting artist and a visiting lecturer at various universities. In the States his works have been shown in important galleries in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and, most recently, New York City.
In 1995 he was appointed the head of the Photography Studio at the Faculty of Art and Design, Purkyně University, Ústí nad Labem. In 2002 he helped to start up Fotograf magazine, of which he has been Editor-in-Chief ever since. In 2005 he was made a Visiting Professor at the University of Derby, Great Britain, for three years. In 2009, together with other colleagues from Fotograf magazine, he established the Fotograf Gallery, primarily for young photographers.
Baňka lives and works mainly in Prague.
Solo exhibitions (a selection since 2000)
2011 ‘Nejen Marginálie’, Dům umění města Brna, Brno
2010 ‘Z mého života’, Galerie 5. patro, Prague
2008 ‘Fotografie ze sbírky PPF Art’, Galerie Louvre, Prague
2007 ‘Zjasněná noc’, Galerie Feducia, Ostrava
2006 ‘Agraria et Marginalia’, Centre tchèque, Paris
2005 ‘Infinity’, ‘Terezín-Mansfield’, Museum fotografie, Charleroi, Belgium
2005 ‘Terezín-Mansfield’, Format 05 Festival, Derby
2003 ‘Terezín/Mansfield’, Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, National Gallery, Prague
2003 ‘Hospice Comtesse’, Transphotographiques Festival, Lille, France
2003 Galerie Witteveen, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
2002 Biennial of Photography, Moscow, Russia
2002 Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg, Gemany
2002 Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Helsinki, Finland
2001 ‘Infinity’, Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague (exh. cat.)
2001 Klotz/Sirmon Gallery, New York, USA