Miroslav Tichy Pioneering Czech Photographer Dies at 84

Miroslav Tichy

The Czech photographer Miroslav Tichy, a pioneer who only recently became internationally known, after achieving major success abroad, has died age 84. After studying at the Academy of Arts in Prague, he worked for sometime as an abstract painter.

This was not easy in Communist Czechoslovakia and Tichy turned to a life of isolation in his home town of Kyjov, Moravia. In the 1960s, he began to take photographs of local women at the town pool, using cameras made by hand out of scrap cardboard and tin cans. The photos were shot peering through fences which imposed quirky shadows and lines on every image. His unusual photographs have now been widely acknowledged internationally having been exhibited in galleries in London, New York and Zurich.  Critics were taken with his crude Expressionist style and the voyeuristic  content gained them an Outsider, naive cult status. This impressed dealers and collectors which helped to establish a lucrative market for his work. The photographs are now sold for up to ten thousand euros.

Tichy was known to hide in bushes and take pictures of unaware women and girls with his homemade cameras. Once he developed the films the prints were drawn on and distressed. Although academically trained, Tichy worked in obscurity until he was discovered a few years ago. His smudgy, snapshot-like pictures of the women from his hometown of Kyjov are a record of not only private artistic obsessions but also of a defiant quest for personal pleasures amid public repression. In the Sixties he was Jailed for seven years as a subversive. When he was released in 1970 he began to take more pictures in the style that he coined.

Tichy is truly one of the great ‘finds’ of an unknown artist who worked on the outside edges of the art world. Following the communist takeover Tichy spent some eight years in prison camps and jails for no particular reason other than he was ‘different’ and was considered subversive. Upon his release in the early 70’s, Tichy wandered his small town in rags, pursuing his obsession as an artist with the female form by photographing in the streets, shops and parks with cameras he made from tin cans, children’s spectacle lenses and other junk he found on the street. He would return home each day to make prints on equally primitive equipment, making only one print from the negatives he selected. He stole intimate glimpses of his subjects through windows and the fences of swimming pools as well as in the streets, sometimes finding himself in trouble with the police. He would often draw intricately on each print in pencil embellishing the images with his lines or reworking them in other ways, Tichy would also sometimes include a card frame around the prints and decorate those too.

The work that might to the casual viewer, simply appear to be intrusive voyeurism, takes on a melancholic and poetic quality. They are exquisitely produced small objects of obsession, which have no equal. He produced work – not for others, but solely for himself without any regard for exhibiting or selling the work to others. Tichy’s pictures were only known to a few photography experts until he won the ‘ New Discovery Award’ at Arles. An exhibition of his work was also shown at the Kunsthaus Zürich in September 2005

“Photography is painting with light! The blurs, the spots, those are errors! But the errors are part of it, they give it poetry and turn it into painting. And for that you need as bad a camera as possible! If you want to be famous, you have to do whatever you’re doing worse than anyone else in the whole world”.