For those who view them, the photographs of Jaroslav Kučera are a special adventure. They mean an intimate human encounter that probably would not otherwise occur, an encounter with worlds that people would otherwise never enter into and with situations they would almost certainly never find themselves in. That is because Jaroslav Kučera is drawn like a magnet to just those things that are hidden from ordinary, every-day life, and is drawn to whatever diverges from common human fate. It is as if intuition or the feelings and inquisitiveness of a diagnostician let him in on what shapes, and to a great extent, gives flavor to and influences our lives. That is why in his pictures we encounter prostitutes, homosexuals and black-market money changes, beggars, thieves, the homeless and drug addicts, immigrants and itinerant laborers, punks and anarchists, the peculiar residents of the underworld, city streets and areas near border crossings. Kučera is gifted like few other people with the ability to become close to practically anyone, to enter into their private lives and gain their confidence or even sympathy. He is seen as a friend rather than as a photographer. He does not abuse this ability, however. From his photography one can feel a sort of quiet community spirit with all of these people said to be living on the edge.
Kučera puts his photography into thematic cycles, always focusing on the issues of a particular social group or place. Thus, in the 1970s the cycles One Night Stands (Milenci na jednu noc), Retirement Home (Domov důchodců), Reformatory (Pas»ák) and Prague Lunch Counters (Praľské bufety) came into being. The pictures are sometimes brutally crude, often made in borderline lighting conditions, but are full of local color and the poetry of their time. It is as if Kučera were trying to define the meaning of mankind. The cycle Moldavia from the 1980s is then Kučera's climactic tribute to humanity. The phenomenon of humor is also fully evident in his work, full of human warmth and understanding smiles. This is also found in his cycle Communist Holidays (Komunistické svátky). It has a delicious quality of absurdity. These works place Kučera among the leading protagonists of the tradition of surreal reality of Czech literature and visual arts. The rapid societal transformations of the 1990s then give rise to two large, ongoing cycles on Sudetenland (Sudety) and the Transformations of Prague (Proměny Prahy), in which the discord of old and new is often striking. The works are a reflection of the new phenomena of life after the political revolution that the country has had to deal with, like it or not, when democracy was restored after half a century. These are social probes of noteworthy depth, full of the human understanding and bittersweet humor that is so typical of Kučera. Perhaps his work should be required reading for today's politicians...
Of course, Jaroslav Kučera is more than just a sensitive, thoughtful maker of documentaries. He is at the same time a full-blooded, capable reporter. Since the mid 1990s he has earned one honor after the other in both of those fields. He was the first Czech photographer to receive a Prague Grant from the Mayor of Prague for the task of spending a year recording the social transformation of the capital city. In the year 2000, for a photograph of the Prague protests against globalization, the international jury of the Czech Press Photo competition awarded him the main prize - the title of Photograph of the Year. For that same shot and two others from the same series, he also won first prize in the Topical Subject category of the 2000 Fuji Euro Press Photo Awards competition, in which nearly every country in Europe participated.
Contemporary Czech photography of life boasts several photographers of renown, but Kučera is perhaps the only one who is like a sensitive seismograph, recording the broadest range of symptoms of the key changes of life in this country. He has the feel of a diagnostician and the brilliant talent of a reporter and commentator.
© 2006 Jaroslav Kučera, ArtForum / ICZ a.s.