DOFO group and 1960s subjective photography
Photography assumed the role of information medium after the Second World War’s wide impact on all social areas and thus heralded the worldwide development of photojournalism, reportage and documentary photography. After the new political situation in Czechoslovakia - with liberalism and flourishing economy being replaced by an intolerant Communist Party-led political system - photographs often reflected schematic recommendations and social realism, and hence photography’s aesthetic value was often politically compromised. Compared to the free and experimental photography of the inter-war period, everyday themes, genres and snapshots started were phased out during the 1950s.
One of the first post-war photographic groups in Czechoslovakia was the DOFO Olomouc Photographers Group (1958-75): amateurs who worked in manual and technical professions such as factories and production plants. The communist regime found them rather ideologically acceptable because DOFO emphasized the originality of vision and imaginative interpretation of reality as per the photographer’s inner feeling. Although the group’s declared programme was the ‘extraordinary interpretation of reality’, they had inadvertently stumbled into the ‘subjective photography’ movement as promoted by German photographer Otto Steinert (1915-78) at international exhibitions. His manifesto stated that subjective photography is ‘humanized individualized photography’, which represented an attempt to cleave subjective photographs from commercial, documentary and journalistic photography. The group applied numerous pre-Second World War Bauhaus experimental techniques, and the photographs reflected the subjective feelings of the creators as expressive, structural and often hallucinatory images. The movement was international and included photographers from Germany, Japan, Sweden and America. Photographers associated with subjective photography include Harry Callahan, Thomaz Farkas, Gaspar Gasparian, Marcel Giro, Peter Keetman, Takashi Kijima, Siegfried Lauterwasser, Kiyoshi Niiyama, Toni Schneiders, Aaron Siskind, Otto Steinert, Christer Strömholm, and Ludwig Windstosser.
Czechoslovakia’s mid-1960s cultural scene was alive with progressive movements, experiments, and relative openness. Yet the short-lived liberal atmosphere, epitomised by film director Miloš Forman (1932-2018) and writer Milan Kundera (*1929), was violently ended by the Soviet invasion in 1968.
The group’s founder was considered Antonín Gribovský (1933-89) whose still-life exterior shots and experiments with solarization complemented the lyrical world view. In contrast, Jaromír Kohoutek (1905-76), a photographer at the Agriculture Research Institute in Olomouc, sought interesting details and visual attraction in structures. John Hajna (1923-2006) focused on absurd encounters with everyday objects, whereas Rupert Kytka (1910-93) oscillated from landscape photography to an interest in structural aesthetics and developments in optimal art. Jaroslav Vávra’s (1920-81) experiments with colour photographs and optical grids are unique in the Czech scene. Vojtěch Sapara (1923-2004), landscape and still-life photographer, springs surprises with the artistic as well as technical and technological quality of photos. Ivo Přeček (1935-2006) moved between poetic and surreal photography, and also created photographic objects. The impact of the group’s creations - with their gravity, relevance, and quality - went beyond national borders and contributed to the wider European art scene. Some images can be compared with the German Fotoform group’s output. Experimental work by Ivo Přeček, Jan Hajn, Antonin Gribovsky and Jaroslav Vávra were included in the 1966 Surrealism and Photography exhibition prepared by Václav Zykmund in collaboration with Otto Steiner for the Museum Volkwang in Essen. This exhibition, which also included contributions from Eva Fuková (*1927), Emila Medková (1928-85) and Vilém Reichmann (1908-91), was one of the few events that elevated Czech photography into the European context.