Jiří Havrda

Jiří Havrda


by Jiří Havrda (Czech Republic)

Photography as an image depicting its own inner story – a story implied, unfinished. It is a moment of penetration beneath the surface, into the fragile interstices on the edge of existence and non-existence… it is perhaps only a part of the moment mapping a feeling or mood that is then irreversibly changed. Photography is tension and mystery, light and shadow, it is a moment embedded in the ice of eternity. The moment is fascinating and want to touch it and discover the essence of what is not visible and what is to be hidden. I wait for the moment of change when a mask disappears for a second and the truth is revealed.

Portfolio from the Introspective Photography workshop with Michael Ackerman, September 2019.

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I want to start by noting the stylistic coherence within this set of work—as basic as this may seem, many photographers, even highly accomplished ones, find this challenging to recognize and adhere to. This is particularly visible in the ‘poster’ collage (img 00), which demonstrates a highly graphic approach to the medium of photography. The immediacy with which a viewer can comprehend your artistic identity and stylistic approach will serve you well in promoting the work as a unified body.

Overall, this is an intriguing and accomplished set with a Daido Moriyama-esque feel. As a group, the images have a gritty, urban, hieroglyphic feel, as though you were painting a new kind of urban graffiti with your camera. (This is perhaps most literally true in the images—10 and 13—where you have skillfully observed and isolated the organic collages that come about in metropolitan spaces, with different layers of advertisements, murals, posters, graffiti, and the physical material of the underlying structures are all in varying states of deterioration, collectively forming new works of art. I would love to see more of these.)

Some images are stronger than others, and there are several that I would suggest are logical within the set and but are less effective on their own (and could be replaced with stronger individual images to really refine the body of work). Images 6 and 12 are two such works.

00_final_poster with Michael Acketman






Image #6 shows a good eye for form, and I appreciate the mirrored movement between the boys’ legs, which connects the subjects to one another and gives the image some structure; but the subject matter is a conventional one in street photography, and the backdrop is too recognizable, too normal and pedestrian when set against the other works in the set.


Image #7 teeters on the edge of that familiarity but succeeds in adding value to the set with its formal dynamism; the main subject appears to be on a different visual plane from the sharply receding street behind her, compressing the space within the frame in an interesting way. I might enjoy this particular image even more if the comparative sharpness of the background did not distract from the main subject, and those secondary elements were reduced more to abstract shapes. Still, the work sits nicely in the set, and I particularly like the painterly folds of the subjects dress and the subtle correspondence between the hand movement of the main subject and the disembodied hand creeping into the right side of the frame.

The best images, in my opinion, are those where reality becomes unrecognizable, where you lean into the surreal abstraction offered by the grainy, high-contrast, fragmentary style and technique you’ve applied across the works. That is not to say that distorting reality in this way is most effective when it results in total abstraction—rather, it is when you toe the line of the uncanny, when certain everyday elements are familiar but you’ve thrown them off their axes. That style makes less sense when you apply it to more conventional subjects, but really comes into its own when you allow it to escape convention and enter into what I would informally call the realm of the funhouse mirror. Image #8 is an excellent example of a successful application of this style; I can just about identify what I’m looking at, but am also utterly disoriented. The image transcends its status as a photograph, adopting qualities of other media; what I assume are some kind of leaves or other natural elements floating on a pool of water appear as chunky graffiti-like brush strokes, while the water has a rippling watercolor texture. The child’s face is grotesque, disfigured by the different actual and aesthetic layers of removal. Image #16 is equally superb, the subject identifiable yet not of this world—a perfectly uncanny work. The skewed framing works well here, as the woman appears almost to be held up from tumbling out of frame by the bar she holds onto. Her face is distorted by motion, yet just enough of her features are visible to create an impossible Picasso-like reconfiguration of facial dimensionality and perspective.



Image #9 sits well within the set, offering once again and unsettling fragment of the urban everyday that disrupts the viewer’s sense of documentary truth, and in the wider context of the series, ramps up the sense of the macabre lurking beneath the surface of daily life. (The effect is particularly dark when considering the images of religious icons, and I appreciate the way in which your deliberately ‘messy’ technique creates an unsettling similarity between your female human subjects—as in images 4 and 7—and the statues in images 5, 14, and 15.)


Image #10 is beautifully observed. I would urge you to think about groupings within the set, sequencing more carefully to bring out consistencies within sub-groups of your series. This process can also be helpful to understand which type of images you might wish to build upon and create more of, where to expand and where to contract in moving forward with the body of work. In this sense, image #10 and image #13, for example, obviously sit well together. In some instances, the combination of blur and grain really takes over, and it feels these particular images would also be best enjoyed grouped together—as with the sharp-toothed monster in #9, the ghostly flowers in #11 and the ghostly figure in #16. When, on the other hand, one flips from image #10 to image #11, both strong images in their own right, the change in style and degree of focus unsettles the eye somewhat and undermines the coherence of the flow. I gather that image #15 is a composite of multiple images? I am certainly intrigued by it, but am not sure I like that it breaks up the otherwise consistent formatting of the included works; this feels more like a page layout than a single image.



With image #12, I understand what you were going for, and I very much like the progression of the three figures, from the bubble-maker in the foreground, to the boy at the center, to the figure taking a picture in the distance. The second two figures are great; it is the figure at the front of the image who, for me, comes across as too casually familiar, the details in his face and t-shirt pulling me, the viewer, back to a concrete sense of place and time, just as the backdrop in #6 does.






On the whole, this is a captivating set that I’d be keen to see more of. I particularly enjoy those works where you toy with the recognizable qualities and functions of the photographic medium, cobbling together elements of painting, graffiti and collage to supersede the limits of the photograph and bring out the uncanny contained within the everyday.

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