Female Lion Tamers
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Luskačová, Markéta "Girls playing with sweaters on the primary school playground", London, 1998; photo: © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023
Art + Stories, Opinions

Female Lion Tamers

Agnieszka Rzonca
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time 12 minutes

In the space of the last hundred years, there have been five outstanding female photographers who have immortalized both famous people and the disappearing worlds of the Czech provinces. As it turns out, none of them took up photography by accident.

I can’t help it—when I think of photography in Czechia, the person that comes to mind is the fictional Tereza from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. A wonderful, multifaceted heroine, who eludes all conventions. Just as we think we are beginning to understand Tereza, she makes a U-turn. Her view of the world, and the photos she takes, are equally unconventional. She took up photography unexpectedly, after moving from the provinces to Prague. As the novel’s narrator explains: “The elan with which Tereza flung herself into her new Prague existence was both frenzied and precarious. […] Tereza had a job in a darkroom, but it was not enough for her.” Soon she, too, started taking photos. Perhaps she was driven to do so by the same inner compulsion suggested by the bon mot of one of the most famous American photographers of the twentieth century, Dorothea Lange: “It is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer any more than the lion tamer becomes a lion tamer.”

Lucia’s Light

Lucia Moholy was an artist from Prague who gained worldwide fame, although her work became known before she did. Moholy’s distinctive, sophisticated photos commemorated many of the accomplishments of the Bauhaus. However, over the years, her works were reproduced without credit to her, or were attributed to other artists. Moholy came from a wealthy secularized Jewish family, just like Franz Kafka, who was nearly a decade her senior. She studied history and philosophy in Prague before moving to Berlin, where she worked as an editor for various publishers. Her fascination with photography began in 1915, at the age of twenty-one, when she wrote in her diary: “The interest in photography awoke in me.

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