The Czech Republic has lost two renowned photographers, Ladislav Sitenský and Jan Reich, both of whom died at the weekend, the former at the age of 90, the other at just 67. Both men had an important impact on 20th century Czech photography, Sitenský during World War II, and Reich during the ‘Normalisation’ 1970s.
Photographer Ladislav Sitenský who died on Saturday was nothing less than a legend, having taken pictures from the time he received his first camera at the age of 14 in 1933. Four years later, he shot a series from the funeral of Czechoslovakia’s first president, T.G. Masaryk, for the magazine Ozvěny. But it was during the war, after joining the British RAF, that Sitenský gained his greatest fame, as an official photographer of the Czech Air Force, documenting the times and capturing members of the 312th squadron. Mr Sitenský continued to exhibit into old age, including an exhibition at the British Council in 2002, where he was interviewed by Radio Prague’s Ian Willoughby.
“I suppose I am most likely the only photographer who has been taking pictures of everything, whether it were girls, architecture, war or sports - everything which passed by me I've taken pictures of.”
IW: You are associated with aviation and flying - were any of these photos taken from planes?
“No not one (laughs). It's true I've been six years with the Royal Air Force, but I never really felt really well in a plane. My stomach didn't like it.”
After the war and after the Communist putsch of 1948, the photographer shot politically “neutral” photographs, everything from calendars to tour books of then-Czechoslovakia. But he remained highly-respected - receiving an Order of Merit from the Czech president, Václav Klaus, in 2003.
The other notable photographer that the country lost last week was Jan Reich, a generation younger, who succumbed to cancer at the age of just 67. Reich is easily most famously known for his book Disappearing Prague, which captured the mood and spirit of run-down parts of the Czech capital in the 1970s: old docks, crumbling buildings, ruined stations and factories. The photographer himself told me more about the book and his subjects back in 2007:
“I was born after the Second World War and even after all those years I found areas that hadn't changed a bit. There weren't funds and so the city had stayed the same, not evolved for example like Paris which was becoming a modern city. I was worried that areas would disappear before I had a chance to photograph them. The factories and apartment blocks weren't posh but they had a poetry which was wonderful. At least the photographs captured what once existed. Still, for me it's not enough that they document, they must also capture layers of emotion.”
In addition, Reich earned acclaim for his 2005 publication Bohemia, capturing the Czech landscape; it was awarded Book of the Year in the prestigious Magnesia Litera competition. Both Jan Reich and Ladislav Sitenský were two of the country’s most accomplished photographers; both will be sorely missed.
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