THE CYNEPHILE

"The cinema is cruel like a miracle." -Frank O'Hara

Miroslav Tichý at ICP

Miroslav Tichý’s photos are a mess, and I mean that as a compliment. They look like they have been stepped on, scratched, crumpled up, and left out in the rain. Old and neglected, many of them have partially oxidized, obscuring the ghostly image that lies beneath a layer of corrosion. They are covered with fingerprints, grit, and in one case, the image of stray fly that made its way on to the enlarger. They are small and oddly-shaped, with nary a straight-edge in sight. Seemingly artless, they look like mistakes that another photographer would consign to the dustbin. But for Tichý, the imperfections are where the beauty resides: “The flaws are part of it,” he insists. “That’s the poetry.”

(Click on individual photos to enlarge)

Tichý himself is an odd character: a toothless Czech vagabond, he was briefly jailed by the Communists for being deemed “subversive.” While he did wander around snapping photos of the unsuspecting in his native Kyjov, most of the village saw him for what he was: a harmless eccentric. Using cameras that he constructed from found materials (clothespins, spools, cardboard tubes, string), Tichý shot about two rolls of film per day, mostly of females caught unaware in the midst of their day-to-day leisure activities (sunbathing, reading, riding bikes, sitting on park benches.) While there is undeniably an element of voyeurism to his work, his photos remind of Chris Marker’s atmospheric portraits of women or Gerhard Richter’s blurry photo-paintings — hazy, feverish, sensuous images suffused with an undercurrent of death, decay and dissolution.

Tichý’s work is currently on display at ICP, and it is something you should truly see in person. Incidentally, there is also an exhibit of Surrealist photography from Paris and a small presentation of vintage prints by Eugène Atget (which Walter Benjamin described as resembling “the scene of the crime”). Do you need any more beautiful reasons to go? Allez-y à ICP!