(Photo Book and exhibition)
Author and publisher - Pavel Brunclík, 2012
Introduction - Jiří Machalický, Miroslav Petříček
Pavel Brunclík concentrates on several basic themes in his photographs. He returns to certain of these after breaks, and focuses on others only during certain periods of time. The most important circles of his creative work include landscape, women and portraits. Each of these demands a different approach, a distinct method of depiction.
Brunclík's most consistent preoccupation is with landscapes in their infinite transformations. These landscapes are spread around the world, a fact which also to a certain extent influences their character. Certain photographs capture the landscape as a whole, while others explore details. They reveal the artist's ability to express space and evoke atmosphere. He sometimes deliberately depicts nature in such a way that scale is deceptive. He has created an unbelievable number of landscapes. While preparing an exhibition he often selects completely different photographs than in the past, and his view of these naturally changes over time. Brunclík has devoted himself to landscape from the very start, though most intensively since 1996 to the present day. He attempts to capture nature in its unfettered form, unaffected by civilisation. He is not interested in mere reportage, but in a minimalist depiction of structures. Sometimes these themes are interwoven, such as when nudes became an integral part of the landscape.
Brunclík's landscapes are often imbued with a romantic tone. We sense the endless expanses of seas and oceans, the inaccessibility and monumentality of mountain ranges, the unceasing variability of deserts, where the wind creates dunes reminiscent of a billowing sea. He captures unrepeatable moments, moments which he has to wait patiently for before they disappear forever. The immutable contours of cliffs have a completely different effect when the light changes, when they are sharply lit or shrouded in mist or curtains of rain. Pavel Brunclík is able to capture moments in which the relationship between individual elements and the whole is perfectly balanced. Sometimes it is the diversity of colours which is crucial, while other times the range of hues within subtle tones of grey is far more expressive. Man is not present in the landscapes, which seem free of any trace of civilisation. Some pictures are reminiscent of sculptural reliefs, while others depict natural "sculptures" freely scattered around the landscape. These records of nature are either calm and still, or create a dramatic effect, such as shortly before a storm. They harbour within them a gathered energy, which can be released at any moment. They also induce a feeling of solitude and insignificance in relation to the infinite space of the universe.
The nude is another basic theme in Brunclík's oeuvre. The cycle Strange Women dates from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. It has a fascinating atmosphere, one driven by the women Brunclík photographed and the precisely chosen situations linked with a certain environment. Some photos form sequences recounting stories, while others stand alone and convincingly evoke a certain mood. It was often difficult to choose the right moment to press the shutter in the case of photographs taken in public places. These involved very intimate situations, though always depicted with exquisite taste. The theme of strange women comes across as romantic, though in a completely different way to the landscapes. The photographs of this cycle encapsulate a special secret within, which fortunately we can never completely decipher and which is open to infinite interpretation. The artist handles the transformation of light sensitively, not as an end in itself but as the expression of a certain content or mood. He selects various environments, often exclusive and mysterious, marked by the traces of historical events and sundry narratives. In one of the series of photographs taken in carefully selected urban exteriors the nudes forge unexpected situations, which in turn create unsettling tensions. In others the focus is on the elegance of female bodies in an indifferent or imaginary space bereft of any specific memories. The viewer is thus offered a greater opportunity to draw on their own imagination. However, in certain specific interiors choreographed situations stand in direct opposition to the original purpose of the space. At first sight the action photographed is sometimes difficult to decipher unambiguously. We can interpret it in various different ways, and this in itself increases our curiosity.
The geometry of nudity is already present in Brunclík's early works, when he was studying at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague. At this time he was captivated by ballet. He returned to the theme between 2005 and 2007. His original intention was to create moments in time, though he then deliberately aestheticised the photographs, realising that the composition of the dancers' bodies must be fixed precisely, so that the light could be regulated correctly and the relationship between the whole and its parts be brought out most effectively. However, the composition of the photographs was naturally the result of balletic elements, the ideas of both the dancers and the photographer. Even though positions often had to be repeated for the desired effect to be achieved, the photos give the impression of having been created in movement. Though the geometry of nudity contains within itself a clear order, life is breathed into this order by the randomness which necessarily results despite the precision of the dancers' movements. Each newly formed position must necessarily differ from the previous one. What is being expressed is not the beauty of machines, but of female and male bodies.
The last of the basic themes is portraiture. Brunclík has been working in this field since the 70s. However, from 2009 to 2011 he focused on this form and created a collection entitled 46 Czechs. He photographed well known personalities ranging from natural scientists and doctors, to philosophers, actors, musicians and artists. He managed to catch his subjects in their everyday surroundings wearing their characteristic expressions. Sometimes a photo would be the result of happy coincidence, at other times Brunclík would plan a sophisticated mise-en-scéne. In some cases a gesture is important. In others it is the relationship between the subject and the space in which they are moving, the effect they have on that space or, on the contrary, the way that space moulds them in a certain way. The publication and exhibition concentrate on a limited selection of this relatively extensive collection, which is characterised by the variety of the subjects having their portraits taken.
Pavel Brunclík has been exhibited many times, both in the Czech Republic and abroad. His publications on individual themes have many times been awarded the prize for photographic publication of the year. In all he has released five such publications, each devoted to a single circle of interest. This is the first book and exhibition which include a representative selection from the artist's entire oeuvre.
The Seen as Unobserved
Thematic cycles of photographs follow one after another: Other Women, Landscapes, Nudes, 46 Czechs. They are diverse and yet something always returns in them. They are diverse, though they are by the same artist. However, that which returns in them and forms their common denominator is not a name, but a gaze, which both reveals this diversity and is itself revealed within it. Because photography is always also the photography of a certain gaze, and not simply a depiction of the real world.
From the gaze we can detect wherein lies the strength of the creator of these diverse photographs. Pavel Brunclík takes portraits. However, he creates them in his own way, and by doing so he recuperates the etymological significance of the word portrait. In fact, to create a portrait does not mean simply and exclusively to represent a person, a face, an expression. A portrait is far more complex: it seeks to extract from the surface the quintessence of its subject, that which is not hidden beneath the surface but lives within this surface. In Pavel Brunclík's photographs we can see not only the actual essence of portraiture, but the essence of photography, because both are very closely related in all of his cycles.
The term "portrait" conceals within itself the Latin preposition pro, which indicates that movement is involved, albeit movement which takes place in one place. Pro-trahere: something appears on the surface and therein makes itself visible. A photograph captures the moment in which this movement permeates the photographed object. It thus reveals what we struggle to express when we speak of character, disposition or temperament, mood or humour. But what else is photography if not precisely that: the revelation in what is seen of the seen as unobserved?
This is also why portrait photography relates to time and why the portrait is something more than the mere representation of a person or face. Pavel Brunclík exemplifies this by creating portraits of landscapes, the human body, or shots of difference in what appears to be identity. It is here, where he does not restrict himself to the human face, that the problematic of portraiture is perhaps even more apparent. The appearance of the unobserved in the seen requires, not only when capturing the human face but also in a portrait of the landscape, the depiction of a moment in which the characteristic features of a person or place are brought out by the environment or immediate surroundings, the harmony of time and space at a certain moment in this face or this place, in these specific tonalities and no others, in this and no other light, in the detail and not the whole, or, on the contrary, in the whole and not the detail. Because a unique encounter is always involved between substance and form in an unpredictable moment which does not last - except in photography.
As opposed to a painter, the photographer taking a portrait cannot circumvent the external form of his or her subject, and so must concentrate on the surface and on what is being played out therein. Photography bears witness to the fact that this moment really was present, though its reality exists only in the photograph. This applies not only to landscapes, but also to dance and the movements of dance, portraits of which form the subject of Brunclík's cycle The Geometry of Nudity. Here too we can glimpse in the seen the unobserved: the human body at a moment which is in reality inaccessible to the eye. This moment was really present, but is only real in the photograph. If this seems like a paradox, then notice how paradoxical is the title of this cycle: The Geometry of Nudity. Geometry is not somewhere behind or beneath the surface, but within it - and is manifest in the dance movement itself, the portrait of which comprise pictures of dancers laid bare to the very surface of their bodies.
If a landscape featuring a nude provokes, if the nakedness of dancers provokes, then of course the same can be said for Other Women: eroticism in crepuscular corners, seduction through the aloofness of the pose. However, that which seems in these portraits to constitute the contradiction of mutually exclusive moments, is in reality a harmony - the harmony of various exteriors, i.e. the environment and the poses - which, however, allows a secret to shine through on the surface of the photography, a secret whose secrecy we cannot decipher. Perhaps this secret is very simple: that which is deep can only be manifest when it appears on the surface, i.e. in the photograph. And it is often more real than reality itself, though its reality is evinced by photography and photography alone.
© 2012 Pavel Brunclík, ArtForum / ICZ a.s.