PRAGUE — The prominent Czech-born American photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil throws light upon the nature of contemporary human society in the retrospective exhibition Photo Essays. His exhibition in the House of the Stone Bell explores the relationships between humans and nature, the horrors of war, and countless social and political conflicts.
The exhibition consists of more than 200 black and white photographs, six video projections, and it is arranged in sections related to mankind’s mostly disastrous impact in the world: “Man and Nature,” “Man and Conflict,” “Wars,” “Man and Vision.”
“Man and Nature” includes photos of a melting glacier yet impressing with its might, the silhouettes of animals walking in the shadows, a Galapagos bird flying away in the beautiful frame of bare tree branches. The photos in this section are astonishing, effectively reminding us of how fragile nature is, more so in the era of climate change.
“Man and Conflicts” reveals the burning social, political, and natural conflicts of our society. Kratochvil depicts life in refugee camps, its hardships, loneliness along with the decadence of the “golden youth” in Moscow. The photos in this section are emotional and make the heart sink. Similarly disheartening and shameful for humanity are photos in the “War” section with photos from Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Philippines, Haiti, Iraq, and Rwanda.
For relief at the end, the “Man and Vision” section contains a collection of exquisite portraits of celebrities. Those who fancy portraits will appreciate the play of shadows and lights in the photographs of so many celebrities including David Bowie, William Dafoe, Bob Dylan, and many others. Kratochvil mastered the play of shadow and the light, reflections, the natural contrasts that emphasize the texture of skin and surfaces. Very unconventional and often random moments, when only the shadow or reflection of the photographed person is captured, are framed in exceptional composition. The portraits are the inner images of the human soul. Most of them presented by Kratochvil were shot for himself right after finishing projects for various campaigns, commercials and magazines, such as Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Geo, Vogue, and many more.
His photographs are not only reportage, but have a strong expressive component, they are dynamic and the artistic side plays a significant role in them. All works are in black and white, that makes the accent on the message of the photographs rather than eclectics of colours that immediately grabs attention. The framing is unique in both the war coverage reportage or documentary photographs and the portraits. Kratochvil experiments with the asymmetry and diagonals, it feels like he is breaking the rules, knowing them best — the cuts, the unfocused details, the falling horizons, all create indescribable composition. The photographer goes beyond the surface and looks deeper. His photo essays tell the stories people should know about.
Life of Kratochvil is the way through the thorns to the stars, the photographer knows the hardships he captures on film from the inside. His family was expelled in a labour camp, when Kratochvil was a child. He has been through the Austrian refugee camp, after escaping communist Czechoslovakia and spent several months in Swedish jail. He fought in Chad with a French Foreign Legion. Later the photographer managed to escape to Amsterdam, where he gained a degree in Photography from The Gerrit Rietveld Academy and emigrated to America in 1972 from Europe. Since his time in the United States, Kratochvil’s main focus has always been documenting war, and these projects have brought him several World Press Photo Awards, amongst other prestigious awards he holds. Kratochvil is one of the founding members of a VII Photo Agency, well-known photojournalism agency whose first assignment was the 9/11 tragedy. In 1999, American Photo magazine ranked him among the 100 most important personalities of world photography.
The grey walls of the gallery hold Kratochvíl’s documentary and portrait work in its entirety. The visitor of the exhibition can gradually follow step by step the photographic journey of an exceptional personality, pilgrim and talented artist. Kratochvil in his photographs creates a true testimony about us, our time and our world.
Photos by Anastasia Linevich