Since graduating from the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague, Ivan Pinkava (b. 1961) has devoted himself to non-commercial photography. In this time, he has created his own distinctive visual language, which has secured him a prominent place in the arts scene. The figures and still lifes in his works intertwine. The upright human figures prevalent in his earlier photographs evolved or vanished entirely to be replaced by their imprint in the form of sacralized objects. Pinkava consciously addresses the well-known iconographic situations of Western culture, but changes them, sometimes inconspicuously, sometimes radically, altering, jumbling, renaming them, emptying or veiling them, or making them stand out in a different light. He blurs the conventional meanings behind the names of classical and biblical figures. He finds something in historical settings that is common to both the present and the future and true to both – the prefigurations of human uncertainty that derive from our own physical transience. In 2005-7 Pinkava was head of the Photography Studio at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague. In 2004 he organized the largest exhibition of his own work to date, which was held at Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague.
1. How and when did you become interested in photography?
I studied photography in the 80’s at the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where the study programme is orientated especially towards art photography. Since then, I have been working as a freelance artist and I have dedicated all my time to photography. The beginnings were mainly connected with the interest in the human face and its psychological characteristics. However, the outcome has always been more a kind of strong projection of my way of thinking than what we can call an art portrait. That’s why my current change of direction from the subject of human face and body towards non-figurative work is not a rejection of the previously investigated topic, on the contrary it develops and deepens the same interest. Obsession with humanity.
2. Is there any artist/photographer who inspired your art?
I personally do not make much difference between photographers and other artists. I regard inspiration in a similar way. In fact I do not follow the art scene very much as it distracts from the inner inspiration. I am more interested in the cultural memory of Western thought and of course the fine arts including photography. It is in this space that I can conduct a kind of never-ending dialogue about human existence, about ongoing falls and rises of a contemporary human as well as one’s attempts at self-recovery. I think that my photographs are really not about anything else.
That’s why you might find it surprising, when I identify Diana Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz or Fra Angelico as some of my indirect sources of inspiration. The encounter with their work was really formative for me. The formal inspiration sources of my work you could find linked more with other authors, but those inspirations are in fact not so important.
3. Why do you work in black and white rather than colour?
Colour photography seems to me too concrete/specific for my work, too realistic. Purism of the black and white scale is more suitable for directing the focus of the viewer towards the content, which I wish to communicate. However, here I have only my work in mind. Of course, this could not be applied to a different way of photographing, to a different way of thinking. I therefore definitely do not perceive colour photography as less valuable.
4. How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph/series of photographs?
The main part of my work lies more in clarifying my own feelings and searching for solutions, which manage to communicate visually, what I can hardly communicate verbally. That means there are very long pauses in between periods when I actually work. However, those pauses are maybe as important for me as the photographing itself. In a certain way that means that I actually work constantly. Photographing in the studio is then just a final phase of work realization. However even in this final phase there are still changes and shifts happening in relation to the original ideas. It is a moment of magic, abrupt eruption of internal irrationality, which significantly affects the final outcome. That’s why I also prefer working at night.
I work with by now very old-fashioned camera Mamiya RB 67 on the medium size negative. I make prints solely by Gelatine Silver print technique. The blowing up itself is just a technical issue, which I take care of myself or in case of a large size formats in cooperation with my print-assistant.
5. Where is your photography going? What projects would you like to accomplish?
In fact I never work on projects. It is not my personal characteristics. My photographs are slowly changing in the same way as I change and grow old. Therefore it is a way of slow but fully experienced steps.
At the moment, I am working on a larger exhibition for the gallery Stimultania in Strasbourg, France. And my plans? Some time in the future, I would like to organize a retrospective exhibition in one of the important European or American museums or galleries, where I could present my work in its full context and with its mutual internal links. In the Czech Republic, I had this opportunity ten years ago in the excellent Rudolfinum gallery, but I think that the right time has not come until now. I feel that my work has gone an important full circle.