Marie Šechtlová: Photographic Stories

Seventh exhibition of Šechtl & Voseček Museum of Photography.

Watching movie “Love-making of infants”.

Book with photographs with past exhibitions and callendars.

On the opening day Antonín Dufek, currator of the exhibition, spoke and the music was performed by MÚZIKA theatre.


Marie Šechtlová and the Sixties

A while ago, we were throwing out lots of things from our apartment. Objects with thin legs that were never at the right angle. Eggshell-like plastic chairs resting on flimsy bases made from iron bars. Surfaces made from colour fragments. Paper cylinders, and triangular ceiling lamps, decorated with geometric ornaments which gathered dust. They had all became symbols of uselessness, known as “Brussels style”. Perhaps we hated them because they were things that had once been trendy, but they had later turned out to be of limited use, and even worse, to have had an exceptionally short warranty. Why do we see those objects differently today? Why have all the former nostalgias been replaced by a new “retro” nostalgia for the 1960s? And what exactly do we see differently?

Maybe today we no longer use those objects, which have become rare due to their short life expectancy, and we now see their essence. Instead of functionality, we now see their beauty. Instead of flimsiness without substance, we suddenly see their soul, lying in the palm of our hand. In comparison with today’s decorativeness, imported from the West, the testaceous 1960s can remind us of a daring curve, reflecting Man’s first flight into space. We have enough distance now from these 1960s objects, not to expect functionality, and to be aware of their dream dimensions, in many ways closer to inter-war avant-garde. This similarity used to be kept hidden; today it is obvious.

The “Brussels style” reached one of its peaks in 1960s Czechoslovakia. It was everywhere; even in photography. Marie Šechtlová was one its proponents, even though her work had much wider scope. Her fame was possibly greater than that of photographers such as Eva Fuková, Běla Kolářová and Emila Medková, all wives of Prague artists. Her style was less Prague, and more European (or perhaps more accurately, Brussels). Especially her photomontage methods she shared with Eva Fukova. These two artists joined in 1966 in the creation of a book about New York (Eva Fuková, Miloň Novotný and Marie Šechtlová, New York, Prague, 1966). Marie showed herself to be a pioneer of colour photography, with her colourful time-exposures capturing the lines made by lights at night. This was unique at the time. Many of her other photographs depict her experiences from her hard-won trips abroad, especially to Paris, Brussels, Moscow and St Petersburg (Leningrad at that time).

At the heart of Marie Šechtlová’s work in the 1960s are the photographs and photomontages, which defined artistic photography at that time. Up till then, art photography was mostly about using complicated techniques to achieve the artistic impression.  The 1960s brought a grittiness of hard black-and-white, reducing the greyscale, and increasing the contrast. Marie Šechtlová however chose a more delicate dialogue between grey softness and the clarity of darker contour. Her insight changed the human shape into art, with a result that was both natural and wonderful. The body shapes and shadows in her photographs are an analogy of the architectural and design lines that were in vogue at the time.

The history of Czech photography is pretty much the history of Prague photography. Tábor fulfils the imperative of the epoch: think globally, and act locally. One of the important parts of the Tábor whole, the Šechtl & Voseček studios, is having an intensive renaissance of the family tradition, and is one of foci of European photography. The spirit of the place echoes in Marie Šechtlová’s desire to experiment, because here exists the half forgotten tradition of the avant-garde Linie group, and of its photographical section Fotolinie. Shadow plays, photomontages and other experiments by such as Josef Bartuška and Karel Valter in the 1930s were based on a view of photography that was shared by Marie Šechtlová.

Another dimension of Marie Šechtlová’s creativity was the link with literature, especially poetry. Poet Jan Noha was inspired by her photography to write memorable verses, and she in return illustrated his Ode to South Bohemia.

The scope of Marie’s work extended from photomontages to street moments, and excelled in both domains. Surprisingly, the photomontages and street moments coexisted, did not interfere with each other, and could be employed as illustrations. Marie’s candid photography, inspired by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, loses nothing in comparison with the work of photographers such as Dagmar Hochová and Miloň Novotný.

No less admirable were the portraits and nudes created by Marie. Nude photography was just fighting its way through socialistic prudishness. Among the portraits, we find notable emigrants such as Josef Šíma and Jiří Voskovec. Marie Šechtlová’s work in the 1960s was remarkable, and ensures her an honoured place in the history of Czech photography.

21/11/06 Antonín Dufek

Marie Šechtlová – Nee Kokešová

(25. 3.) Marie Kokešová born in Chomutov, daughter of clerk Jan Kokeš and his wife Františka.
Kokeš family moved to Tábor.
Marie matriculated from Tábor High School.
(15. 5.) Married Josef Šechtl.
Completed apprenticeship in photography, at photographic studio of Šechtl & Voseček in Tábor (founded 1876).
( 17. 3.) Daughter Marie Michaela born.
Šechtl & Voseček studio nationalised by Communist government.
Marie and Josef Šechtl won second prize in national amateur movie competition, in category “Movie Poetry”, for movie “Moon”.
Movie “Moon” presented at UNICA international festival, in Ems, Germany.
First prize in national competition of Photography Association, in Artistic Photography category, for cycle “Come to Mama, Darling”.
Series of photographs accompanying poem by Jan Noha, published in “Photography Revue”.
First exhibition in ZK Jiskra, in Tábor.
Exhibition in Halle, Germany.
First and second prizes in competition of Photography Association for series “Almanac 1960”, and for “Boys of Our Street”.
Provided illustrations for book by J. Štych, “The Children of Captain Kohl”.
Nominated for membership of Association of Czechoslovak Artists.
First prize at Exhibition of Czechoslovak Art Photography in Sevastopol.
First prize in Reportage category for series “One to Another”, in competition of Photography Association.
Provided illustrations for book by A. Kusák, “As the Seagull Sings”.
Trip to Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev with group of professional Czech artists.
First prize for series of photographs, “The Face of the Earth”.
First prize for series of photographs, “Rain Song”, in exhibition “Great Friendship”.
Exhibitions in Kunštát Palace in Brno; in Chrudim; in Uherské Hradiště; in Luhačovice; and in Gottwaldow.
Exhibition and catalogue in House of Arts in České Budějovice; in Tábor; in Soběslav; and in Písek.
Trips to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and USA.
Exhibition in Mladá Fronta gallery in Prague.
Exhibition “Wystawa Fotografiky Marii Šechtlovej”, in Warsaw, Poland.
Third and fourth prizes in Photographic Art competition in East Germany.
Special prize in competition in magazine “Mladý svět”, “Unknown Beauties of Czechoslovakia”, prize two week trip to East Germany and Denmark.
Admitted to Membership of Association of Czechoslovak Artists.
Exhibition in Brussels.
Book “New York” with photographs by M. Šechtlová, E. Fuková and M. Novotný.
Publication “Prague on a Rose Leaf”, with Jan Noha’s poetry.
Publication “South Bohemia”, with Jan Noha’s poetry.
Travelling exhibition in Cairo, Alexandria and Berlin.
Exhibitions in Paris, and in České Budějovice.
Exhibition “South Bohemia” in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Tábor.
Marie Šechtlová’s hands severely burned by X-rays in medical accident.
First joint exhibition of Marie and Josef Šechtl in Prague and other cities.
Exhibition of Marie Šechtlová and A. Robinsonová in Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt.
Exhibitions in Cheb, and in Vimperk.
Publication of “Prague”, by M. and J. Šechtl.
Publication of “Jindřichohradecko”, M. and J. Šechtl.
M. and J. Šechtl illustration of book, “Brittany, Daughter of the Ocean”, by F. Kožík.
Publication of “South Bohemia”, M. and J. Šechtl, with J. Kuthan.
Participation in competition, “Woman Behind the Camera” (in years 1975, 1976 and 1977).
Publication of “Hradec Králové”, by M. and J. Šechtl.
Publication, with photography of M. Šechtlová and text by B. Stehlíková, on Leningrad.
Publication of “World of Puppets”, by J. Malík and J. V. Dvořák, with photography by M. and J. Šechtl.
Exhibition M. and J. Šechtl in Tábor theatre.
Publication M. and J. Šechtl, “The Child in the World”.
Publication M. and J. Šechtl, “Tábor Cultural Heritage”, with text by P. Korčák.
Exhibition “Metamorphoses of Tábor from Archive of Three Generations”, in Tábor Cultural Centre.
Publication of “Southern Bohemian Treasury”, by M. and J. Šechtl.
Exhibition “Colour Photography”, by M. and J. Šechtl in Písek District Museum.
Publication, with photographs of M. and J. Šechtl, Zdeněk Sklenář by M. Šmejkal.
Exhibition “Colour Photography”, in Dačice.
Books “Paris”, with text by Jiří Mucha, and “Historical Firearms”, were prepared for printing, but because of political upheavals, were never published.
Exhibition “Anthology”, in Tábor.
Publication “Tábor, as Photographed by the Šechtl Family, 1876–1996”.
Exhibition “Review and Dreamy Return, Photos and Computer Graphics of M. Šechtlová”, in Sezimovo Ústí.
Exhibition “Five Generations of Šechtl Family, Photography and Graphics”, in Písek Museum.
Exhibition “Five Generations of Šechtl Family”, in Prostějov.
Exhibition „Marie Šechtlová: Photographic stories“ in Šechtl and Voseček Museum of Photography in Tábor and Mediatéque Dole in France.
Exhibition „Marie Šechtlová: Life with Photography“ in Šechtl and Voseček Museum of Photography in Tábor.
(July 5) Died in Prague.

Jan Noha — “One to Another”

At the beginning of the sixties, the mood in Czechoslovakia was very depressed. The Communist regime had lasted for 12 years already. The failure of the Hungarian Uprising deeply disappointed all the people who had hoped that the Communist takeover was only temporary. Writers and artists searched for how they could find some optimism in life. They found it in what became known as “Poetry of the Everyday”.

Jan Noha’s poem “Jeden druhému” (“One to Another”) appealed to me. I made photographs to accompany it, and this cycle won the first prize in a national photography competition. It was an encouragement to Jan Noha as well. He was having a hard time in that period. Jiří Pištora wrote later about Jan Noha: “His openness and purity are for our taste too fragile. He was, I think, one of the last of the leftist intellectuals, who expressed their protest against judicial murders in Russia. In 1962, he was interrogated by police regarding his political views. He was harassed by the authorities until his death in 1966.”

From this cooperation was created our later books “All Eyes” and “Prague on a Rose Leaf”. Other photographic themes were inspired by the works of Fráňa Šrámek, František Hrubín, Vítězslav Nezval, František Kožík and others.


Jerevan Circus, 1963

My friend Hana Schlee invited me to Brno in September 1963. She promised me great photo opportunities, as the renowned Jerevan Circus had pitched its tent directly opposite their house. She was right. I so much admired the artistry, the animal performances, and the sublime comedy of the mime artist Jengibar, that I extended my visit to two weeks.

A year later, an amazing thing happened. I was driving in Prague and at a busy intersection, I felt someone was watching me. I searched the crowd, and recognised the lion-tamer from the circus. He appeared to recognise me as well. His gaze was so hypnotic that I understood his success in controlling animals. I found that the circus was in Prague, and I was able to visit and give them copies of my photos, to their great pleasure.


Moscow, 1963

In 1963 I had the opportunity, with group of Czech qartists, to visit Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev. Our guide decided that we had to see all the museums and galleries. It was interesting, but I was more interested in making photographs of people. At the Embassy, they suggested that I visit the summer residence of artists, where I met many interesting writers, including Konstantin Paustovsky, Leonid Leonov, and Korney Czuchovsky. Czuchovsky posed for me several times, once even dressed in his academic gown. The atmosphere was very friendly, and it seemed they did understand my Russian. Stephan Scipachov, who I also photographed, commended my Russian.

Later, when I asked at the Embassy for the address of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and other poets whose works were at that time taboo in Czechoslovakia, it was suggested that I not visit them, because I could end up as “Spejbl” (a famous Czech puppet actor): In a joke that was popular at that time, when Spejbl’s son Hurvínek returned from the Soviet Union, he was asked whether he had seen the great advancement in Russia. He said he had. When they asked him where his father was, he just answered: “He is still there, because he didn’t see it”.


St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), 1963

This had a very different atmosphere from Moscow— the Hermitage, Admiralty building, the Palace of Peter the Great, and groups of sailors on the streets. The most remarkable sight for us was the “White Nights”. Late at night, we were tired, but the world was full of a strange light. Where was it coming from? Where could it best be seen? I went exploring to Finnish Bay, with the painter Vladimír Paleček. From the bridge, we saw a great building whose windows reflected the glowing light. Vladimír took out his sketchbook, while I went down to the river for a better view. When I returned, I found Vladimír had been arrested and accused of spying.

A youth with a little badge led us to the Police station. Hours of waiting and interrogation followed, but in the end, they let us go. The youth with the badge tried to make up to us for our trouble, by taking us on a shortcut. Soon, we were all three arrested. We were then joined by another patrol, and a stray dog. The sea was so calm, it appeared like a line of light. I took a photo of Vladimír. The photo was published in a magazine, under the title “Finnish Bay”. Vladimír complains that it has become his nickname from then on.


New York, 1964

When I returned from the trip to Russia in 1963, my husband told me that he had booked me to go on a trip to the United States, again together with other graphic artists. He himself, as a bourgeois, would not be allowed to leave the country. I was pleased, but worried about how I would find the money. The trip was going to cost Kč 14,000, plus another Kč 3,500 to buy 100 US dollars. These were dedicated for the tips we had to leave, for services in hotels. With a sinking heart, I went to the savings bank to withdraw my last Kč 7,000. When I got there, I found that I had won the bonus draw. That was the only reason I was able to afford the trip.

We were scheduled to go to the US at the time of the World Fair in New York. Some of the party of 32 artists were members of the Czech Communist Party, and the US Consulate delayed their visas, and therefore our trip. The itinerary of the trip was impressive, despite the fact that we missed the exhibition because of our delay. We saw the Guggenheim Gallery, Chinatown, the Empire State Building, and the interior of the United Nations building. I took countless photos, and from this, and the work of three other photographers, the book “New York” was created.

Never before had I been so dazzled as when I visited New York. In Czechoslovakia, everything was grey and sad. New York was bright, far into the night— a photographer’s paradise. The day before I left, I set out to capture all these impressions. Suddenly, I realised it was midnight, and the streets were getting empty. I was carrying many cameras, and I felt afraid. I knew I was close to my hotel but somehow, I had got lost. A passing police car stopped for me, and I got in. They started to ask me questions, and after my experiences in the USSR (where I had been arrested a few times), I was afraid that they were taking me to the police station. I could see that we were going in the opposite direction to my hotel, and I was desperately pointing out that my hotel was on Fifth Avenue, but they ignored me. I was searching in my bag for the hotel’s address, and pulled out all my cameras and lenses from my bag. They just exchanged a look and carried on. I was feeling hopeless, and I saw myself being arrested, questioned and completely lost. Then the car braked abruptly, a policeman opened my door, and I was standing in front of my hotel.

Later, I realised that Fifth Avenue is a one-way street!


Jiří Voskovec, 1964

Before leaving for US, I got the idea to make photographs of a day in the life of Jan Werich, and of Jiří Voskovec. (Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec were two very popular Czech actors of the time. They both came to the United States during World War II. Jiří Voskovec remained in the US, while Jan Werich returned to Czechoslovakia.) Jan Werich liked the idea. In New York, our programme was very busy, and we were starting at 9am every day. During my morning call to Jan Voskovec, he told me, still half asleep, “I should have guessed—a Czech! Who else would call so early in the morning?!” Despite that, he was nice to me, and told me to call again in two days.

Unfortunately that day we had already scheduled a boat trip around Manhattan Island. After having disturbed him once, I didn’t want to call in the morning again. After we returned, Jiří Voskovec told me that he had arranged a time for me this day and there was not much time left. We met at Greenwich Village, and after few photos he invited me home, where I photographed him with his wife. Then he brought me to the theatre where he was performing in Durrenmatt’s “The Physicists”. During the performance, of course, I wasn’t able to take photographs, so I have only a few pictures, and a postcard where he thanks me for the photos. Jan Werich wrote about my photos for the magazine Vlasta, a very interesting article that was published in December 1964.


Brussels and Paris, 1965

In 1965, I was invited to exhibit in Brussels. I had just finished an exhibition in the Fronta gallery in Prague, and it was necessary to take the photographs to Brussels by car. Because of this, my husband, for a first time, was allowed to leave the country. We didn’t know how much trouble we would have. At the border, they wanted a monetary guarantee. They were amazed that we only carried fifty US dollars, the maximum foreign currency that we were allowed to exchange. As we left Germany, we got the money back, and travelled from there nonstop, as we had no money to pay for accommodation. We set up the exhibition, after which we had a celebratory meal, and were given a farewell gift of excellent cognac and some petrol vouchers. So equipped, we decided to return via Paris. Luckily, I was able to sell five photos to the magazine “Photo Cine Revue”. This money enabled us to stay a whole week in pre-Christmas Paris – an unforgettable experience.


Music Series, 1963

I don’t know why I started on the Music Series. I had liked singing, both at school with Professor Vaníček, and at home with my mum. But I hated violin lessons. My father had decided I should be a teacher, like his five siblings, and for that, it was essential that I learn to play a musical instrument. I begrudged the loss of my free time. From that time, I entertained the idea that musical instruments could play themselves. Passing under a tree, one could hear beautiful sounds of a violin. A river weir might contain the silvery keyboard of a piano. Birds’ voices could carry the pipes of an organ, praising God. I completed the Music Series, and entered it in the State-wide competition of the Association of Czechoslovak Graphic Artists, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia. Out of all Southern Bohemia, two of us were commended—František Peterka and me. I felt tt was a great honour for me.


God Has His Eye on Southern Bohemia…

… and the view is great. I was fortunate to see all of Southern Bohemia from the air. I flew in an Army helicopter, with a pilot who obligingly returned and circled every locality at my request. I admired the beauty of castles, chateaux, river-bends, lakes and dams. Only the forest made me uneasy. We flew so close I felt I could reach out and pick a fir cone. The photos were to illustrate my next book, on Southern Bohemia.

Unfortunately, following 1968, new officials came into power. Eventually, a small series of photographs was published, in “Jihočeská Pravda”, under the title, “The Script was Lost”. The book was never published.


Josef Šíma, 1967

While in Paris in 1967, I remembered the apartment in Prague of Jiří Voskovec, full of the paintings of Josef Šíma. Voskovec claimed Josef Šíma as his spiritual father, and told me that if I was ever in Paris, I should contact Šíma. Šíma welcomed me and my husband, and agreed to pose for photos in his studio, and on his balcony.

The smell of garlic soup wafted from the kitchen. I remember his gigantic wooden table, where I laid out some of my photos, and some drawings by my 15-year-old daughter. One picture of Prague gave him pause. He said he could never return to Prague, because all his friends there were dead. I gave him that picture as a memento, which pleased him. In return, he gave me one of his paintings, titled “Memory of Creation”.


Jean Effel, 1967

At the time of our visit, the Paris newspapers were full of caricatures of politicians, drawn by cartoonist Jean Effel. He invited us to meet him, and was a wonderful photographic model—totally unselfconscious. As we left, he drew a keepsake for me in his most recent book, “De la Debré à la Pompidour”. I was showing this to my husband, and remembering the poor remuneration at home. Effel wondered out loud, “How much do you think I would have got for that?” Like a shot, my husband answered, “In Czechoslovakia, it would have been at least twenty years”.


Prague Spring — Raul Tubiano, 1968

It seemed that the communist regime was passing, and everything had come to the very beautiful Prague Spring in 1968. Sadly, by August 21, everything was over. For me it was even more tragic. Because of the mistake of doctor, my hands were burned by X-rays, and I was facing amputations.

Professor Raul Tubiano in Paris managed to save my fingers. The Czech Government paid for only part of the treatment, and I needed plastic surgery. The Professor and his wife invited me to stay in their house while I was being treated. From their balcony, I watched the Seine and Notre Dame, in all their moods. The beauty of the view made me forget my pain. I wanted to produce a book on Paris to thank the Professor.

Professor Tubiano is now dead, as is Jiří Mucha, who wrote the text. I am still hoping to complete this book.


Josef and Charlotta Tomek

I owe a debt of gratitude to Josef and Charlotta Tomek, who cared for me during my convalescence. Before he emigrated in 1948, Josef was a friend of my husband. His mother, a charming lady, celebrated Christmas and other festivals with us. Our first visit to Paris was her idea. As we were departing for Brussels in 1965, she brought a big box for Josef, saying, “Paris is so close to Brussels”. Josef’s house was half-built, and he himself lived in a gazebo in the garden, but somehow, he still managed to provide accommodation for us. When in later years I visited Professor Tubiano, Josef was my host.


Brittany, 1968

In August 1968 I was invited to Paris for an inspection of my burned hands. We decided to make it a family trip, and to visit Brittany. We saw many beautiful cities, and many ports and interesting people. When we camped on the beach near Piriac, we heard from a radio that had been brought to the beach by a couple nearby: „L’agression Soviétique en Tchécoslovaquie…“ On the trip to Paris, we received a lot of solidarity from French people. They were stopping us and trying to help us. In Paris, the whole fence of the Czech embassy was covered by offers.

Everyone believed that we wouldn’t return to occupied Czechoslovakia. This was also what Mr. G assmann (owner of famous photo-laboratories) thought. Because he really regarded my husband’s work in colour photography, when we came to say “Goodbye” to him, he offered him a job, and said that he would help me to get my hands cured, and pay my daughter’s art studies. He opened a safe and offered us a wad of paper money to help us in the beginning. He didn’t understand why we refused.

But for us, we were coming home. On the borders, it looked as if there was an army settlement. The Czech policeman, who was checking our car, quickly closed the cover when he saw the number of magazines we were bringing home. We returned safely, even though all the signs on the streets had been turned around, to confuse the invaders.


7th exhibition of Šechtl and Voseček Museum of Photography:
“Marie Šechtlová: Photographic stories”

The exhibition consists of 36 contemporary laboratory photographic prints and 40 new prints from original negatives. The new prints have been made digitally, under supervision of Marie Šechtlová, using Epson 4800 inkjet printer, with care to match the appearance of contemporary laboratory prints.

The exhibition has been prepared by:

Antonín Dufek
currator of the exhibition
Jan Hubička, Marie Michaela Šechtlová and Eva Hubičková
organized the exhibition, and brought it into being
Škrla family
provided a home for the exhibition
Mrs Eleanor Schlee and Mr John Titchener
translated texts into English
Mr Jakub Troják
designed typography for invitation cards, captions and posters

We are very grateful to everyone who has helped in creating this exhibition. We also gratefully acknowledge the support we have received from the Town of Tábor and the South Bohemian Region.