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Czech author of unique war photos identified

14. 8. 2009 12:45
Some unique photographs from World War I have found their author after almost 100 years, and four months on display at Prague Castle.

Prague - The author of unique photographs from World War One has been unknown until about four months ago. The Prague Castle Administration has been contacted by a grandson of the mysterious man who took the extraordinary pictures. He was an Austro-Hungarian army officer and his name was Jindřich Bišický (1889-1949).

The exhibition Walking Through World War I, which 15,000 people have seen since April, could theoretically change its subtitle, Photographs by an Unknown Soldier. Due to high demand and discovery of the author, Prague Castle has extended the exhibition until the end of September. Negotiations on organising the exhibition in Austria are being held.

The author's grandson, historian Michal Rybák, has gone through the collection of 150 photographs and added several new photos and a detailed biography of the author - an army photographer and a member of the general staff.

The exhibition was launched in April in the Teresian Wing of the Old Royal Palace as an exhibit of photos by an unknown author. The photographs were taken during a military campaign through Halič and on the Italian front.

The negatives were discovered by photographer Jaroslav Kučera in his archive. They were mechanically and chemically damaged, so he digitized them, added computer touchups and created quality enlargements with the help of digital exposure (the biggest pictures are 90 x 135 cm).

"I got the negatives by coincidence some 35 years ago. In 2002, when I had less work and discovered new technology, I started scanning and learnt to work on the computer. I searched for something to work with and came across the negatives again. As I was going through them, I realized that it's fantastic stuff - not only from the historical and documentary points of view, but also from the photographic perspective," Kučera told to ČT24.

Jan Haas, of the Military Historical Institute in Prague, helped identify places, people and military equipment. Most of the pictures were taken on the Italian front, where the 47th infantry unit was fighting. A smaller part of the collection shows the life of the "Czech" 28th infantry unit on the eastern front in Halič.

In some of the pictures, even the author himself — first lieutenant and later a captain with a stylish moustache and penetrating look — is looking at the camera. "We know his face most probably, but his name remains a mystery to us," Kučera said at the launch of the exhibition.

Rybák recognized the pictures immediately, but he did not know how they got to the Castle. As a grammar school student he lent the pictures to a classmate who left the school; the photographs disappeared with him. The grandson did not know what value the photos were going to have. He offered them for publication, but nobody was interested.

Rewrite history

After the discovery of the author, photo historians have spoken about rewriting the history of Czech photography. The collection is the only known comprehensive single-author collection from World War I that is thought to have been created during several months or years.

Bišický will have his own place in the planned publication History of Czech Photography of the 20th Century, said photo historian Vladimír Birgus. In his opinion, the author was an acute photographer with an extraordinary talent for composition and capturing people's lives.

The photographs are valuable also because they do not depict official matters and propaganda; the main topic is the everyday life of Austro-Hungarian soldiers. The collection includes photographs of dead bodies after an attack, fallen men and mass burials, as well as times of rest. It also contains shots from the lives of civilians in the war zones and pictures of landscapes, as well as military equipment and houses and bridges shot to pieces.

Birgus compares Bišický with a war photographer André Kertész and with Ladislav Sitenský, whose photographs depicting the life of Czechoslovakian pilots during World War II are legendary.

Jindřich Bišický was born on 11 February 1889. He studied at a technical school. After the war, he worked in the field and his negatives stayed in boxes. He never realized the value of his photographs. He died in 1949.

Adapted by the Prague Daily Monitor.

autor: CzechNews | 14. 8. 2009 12:45

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