LOOK3 2011: Antonin Kratochvil Chats With Scott Thode

Look3, a festival that invites a mix of emerging and professional photographers to take a subjective look at the current photographic landscape, kicked off last night with a slideshow of Antonin Kratochvil’s work, titled “In America.”

This touching show of black-and-white imagery was followed by a casual conversation between Antonin Kratochvil and photo editor (and co-curator of this year’s Look3) Scott Thode, who have been friends for over 20 years.

Thode started off by prompting Kratochvil to share his story about leaving the Czech Republic in 1967. As a refugee in Holland, Kratochvil first picked up a camera while taking classes at an art school. Having escaped the Czech Republic and being forced to leave family behind, Kratochvil has a strong empathy towards refugees and the suffering of others. Throughout his career that sense of connection has driven him to make dynamic images, full of feeling. After he took photos exposing the terrible conditions he found in an old folks home in Holland, forcing the institution to close down, he became even more motivated to use his photography to create awareness of injustice.

Thode went on to ask Kratochvil about his photographic process. Kratochvil’s choice of slanted horizon and blur is an extension of his instinctive way of working. The audience had a good laugh when he revealed that his characteristic style of composition– placing his subjects in the corners or directly in the middle of frames—was sometimes a ploy to prevent his images being placed in less than favorable ways in magazine layouts. Thode commented that Kratochvil’s way of reinventing himself is to be always looking for a new way to see. Kratochvil does most of his own editing, and he only allows people he trusts to edit his work, like Thode and Kathy Ryan, director of photography at The New York Times Magazine. “Someone else might have a drastically different opinion and I feel strongly about protecting my own voice and vision,” Kratochvil said. He also remarked that he hates sentimental photography, and photographs that are so obvious they don’t raise questions or elicit a feeling. Thode asked Kratochvil if there’s an anger that drives him to make certain pictures. But Kratochvil replied that he’s not really in control. “If you try to do it, it will be obviously fake, “you just got to feel it. And it takes someone like you [Thode] to recognize it.”

After describing the poetry and emotion in Kratochvil’s work, Thode asked him what his idea of home is. “It doesn’t exist,” said Kratochvil, whose exhibition titled “Domovina” (“Homeland” in Czech) is now on view in Charlottesville. He couldn’t return to what was then Czechoslovakia for many years after he left. Since he started his own family, Kratochvil said, he now makes better pictures, especially when he photographs children because he has a connection with them and a greater understanding of their lives. As an example, he talked about a photo he took of child in a refugee camp in Zaire. Kratochvil explains that now home is wherever he is, and that happens to be back in Prague.

–Amber Terranova

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