Institute of Creative Photography
of Silesian University in Opava, Czech Republic
Following 20 years of activity within the Union of Czech Photogra-phers, the Institute of Creative Photography became part in 1990 of the newly-founded Silesian University in Opava - a historical centre of the Czech part of Silesia. This was followed by the most radical changes in its history - there was a striking increase in the numbers of teachers and students, numerous new subjects were included in the teaching curriculum, a studio, dark rooms, a computer-centre and a specialized library have been constructed and furnished and intensive contacts with other countries established. Today, it has by far the highest enrollment of students (about 120 in the baccalaureate course and some 20 in the subsequent magisterial study, opening every other year for the most talented students) from among six institutions providing higher training in specialized photography in the Czech Republic (this subject may also be studied at FAMU - Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts - at the High School of Applied Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts, all in Prague, at the Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem and at Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín.) ITF exclusively provides the so-called combined study. It combines the current form of external study including regular three-day consultations during which lectures, seminars, interviews with visitors and exhibitions are held, with a correspondence course (students can send in their works to teachers for their rating in writing) and a series of long-term photographic projects and short-term workshops. While external study is unusual in many art disciplines, in the case of photography where students for the most part process tasks assigned to them on their own, such forms do exist in many schools abroad. And thus, even established professional photographers who for various reasons of time or family concerns could not manage to frequent day courses, may thus obtain education of university standard. Outstanding among ITF members who perseveringly supported this form of study at various negotiations with the Ministry of Culture and the Accreditation Commission of the Czech Government, was the founder of the Department of Photography at the Prague FAMU Prof. Ján Šmok.
The curriculum at the ITF is of rather a universal character. Its graduates should be able in practice to master all the principal domains of photography, be able to take their bearings in photographic and computer techniques, the history of photography and art and in further theoretical subjects and should also be capable authoritatively to speak and write on photography. While compulsory subjects predominate in the lower grades, higher up each student may gradually specialize in creative photography, reportage and documentary photography or in the broad spectrum of applied and advertising photography.
An important place in the curriculum reverts to so-called exam script works, minor exhibition sets on optional topics in which students must give proof of their talent and author manuscript.
At the Department of Photography, Ján Krížik offers a Preparatory Course which has for aim to acquaint students with photography as an authentic area of fine arts, standing in its own right, to teach "non-photographers" the principles of the photographic technique. The semi-term course ends with an exhibition and public evaluation of students' works.
Two studios are available to students in the higher-grades.
One is in the charge of Milota Havránková. The aim of her studio is (I quote) "free classical and multimedia photography and directing the student to free and utility photography". The name of the Studio is "Atelier of Creative Photography".
Bachelor or Master of Arts studies are terminated by final exams from the history and theory of photography and a defense of practical and theoretical diploma theses. In contrast to many other art schools where it is enough to hand in an explication on the practical work, the Institute of Creative Photography, similarly as the Department of Photography at FAMU, demands comprehensive diploma works on the history and theory of photography in which students must elaborate e.g. a monograph of some Czech or foreign photographer, characterize the development of some photographic genre within a limited time period or in a certain region, or process in a well-grounded manner some problem from the theory of photography, and so on. Most of the works towards an M.A. have around one hundred pages of text proper, though there are some substantially more extensive. In their aggregate they represent an unusually valuable contribution to the history and theory of photography which is accessible to all those interested not only in the Faculty library in Opava, but also in that of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and in some cases also on the internet website www.itf.cz. Nor do the majority of practical diploma works remain buried in the school archives - they are put on view at many exhibitions installed by the ITF.
The pedagogical staff consists of eight regular teachers including a professor (Head of the Institute Vladimír Birgus, primarily teaching the history of photography, contemporary photography and colour documentary photography and chairs seminars on critique of photography), two associate professors (Aleš Kuneš - teaches still lifes, intermedia production, theory of photography and photographic illustration, and Jindřich Štreit - is in charge of practical exercises in documentary photography, shares in the teaching of the history of fine arts and is in charge of certain long-term projects in documentary photography), and five senior lecturers (Vojtěch Bartek is secretary to the ITF and lectures on computer graphics and colour artistic photography, Václav Podestát specializes in subjective document, Tomáš Pospěch teaches the build-up and composition of the photographic image and certain parts of the history of fine arts and contemporary art in the first two grades, further psychology of art and elements of sociology). Irreplaceable posts at the ITF are held by fourteen external teachers including foremost photographers of different generations (e.g. Miloslav Stibor, Jan Pohribný, Jiří Turek, Evžen Sobek, Blanka Chocholová, Antonín Braný), just as experts in the domain of photographic technique (Petr Velkoborský), typography and applied graphics (Otakar Karlas). Rather less satisfaction than that given by the standard of the teaching staff is derived from the technical equipment and furnishings of the studios and laboratories which lag far behind the ideal - especially so in the domain of digital photography. Yet, here too, the situation is gradually getting better. A striking improvement should come by the end of this year when the ITF is to acquire additional premises for further studios, a study for digital photography and a specialized library with a reading-room.
It is often said that ITF in its curriculum lays undue stress on documentary photography. The reason evidently lies in the rather large number of eminent documentarists on its teaching staff, and also the long-term projects - The People of Hlučín Region in the 20th Century, Zlín and Its People and Ex Oriente Lux, where documentary photography predominated, as also numerous reportages of specialized graduates and students (from among these some have made quite a mark for themselves, e.g. Jiří Křenek, Evžen Sobek, Tomáš Pospěch, Miroslav Němeček, Vít Šimánek, Martin Popelář, David Boukal, Martin Stránský, Josef Horázný, Martin Štrba, Martin Říha, Lenka Šavrdová, Jozef Ondzik, Lucia Nimcová, Andrej Balco, Piotr Szymon, Grzegorz Dąbrowski, Rafał Milach, Grzegorz Klatka, Paweł Supernak, etc.). True, documentary photography is one of the strong points of ITF and attracts numerous students, e.g. from Slovakia and Poland where institutions of higher learning do not devote any extra attention to the teaching of photography. But ITF can boast of similar successes in a number of further domains of photography - e.g. that of the nude and portrait (Dita Pepe, Jiří Štencek, Jolana Havelková, Karel Špoutil, Filip Habart, Branislav Boba, Jakub Dąbrowski etc.), experimental creative photography (Igor Šefr, Vojtěch Sláma, Veronika Zapletalová, Barbora Kuklíková, Petra Benešová, Barbora Krejčová, Katarína Hanová, Miloš Vorel, Jan Horník, Marek Hrubý, Andrzej Górski), photographic poster (Magdalena Bartkiewicz) and so on. There is much room for improvement as regards results obtained so far in the domain of e.g. fashion and advertising photography, digital photography - that, however, is the weak point of the majority of Czech photographic schools and Czech photography in general.
Among ITF's successes, on the other hand, is the fact that the majority of its graduates do well in practical life - many of them work as freelance photographers or are attached to various advertising agencies as photo-reporters for daily papers or magazines (e.g. Mladá fronta Dnes, Lidové noviny, Instinkt, Xantypa, Gazeta Wyborcza, Polityka) or as teachers at university-grade and secondary schools having photography on their curriculum (such are, e.g. the university at Zlín, Ústí nad Labem and Trnava, the Faculty of Creative Art at the Technical University in Brno, the Academy of Creative Art in Katowi-ce, the State Academy of Drama, Film and Television in Łódź, the Secondary Art School in Ostrava where the entire teaching staff of the department of photography are graduates of ITF, etc.). Some of them also pursue curator work and history of photography.
ITF students gained numerous distinctions - such as Evžen Sobek who won the Grand Prix at the international contest for young photographers Mio Photography in Osaka where he also had his exhibition, Rafał Milach and Martin Říha who won the 2nd and 3rd prize, respectively in the same competition, Dita Pepe-Hornsteinová and Jan Vaca were awarded the Kodak Prize for young photographers in Germany and had a solo exhibition at Photokina Cologne; in the competition Czech Press Photo, Jiří Křenek won the grant of the mayor of Prague, while Jozef Ondzik and Lucia Nimcová won that of the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava, etc.
For the time being, teaching at the ITF is conducted only in Czech. However, among present-day and former students of the ITF we would find, besides numerous groups from Slovakia (19 students in the school year 2002-2003) and from Poland (a total of 20 students), also smaller groups and individuals from Germany, Italy, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the U.S.A., Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Croatia and Serbia who already knew Czech or, learnt it. From among all the schools abroad, ITF entertained the closest contacts with the Department of Photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań which took over in a large measure ITF's teaching programme for its own correspondence and external courses. In 2002, the Silesian Uni-versity signed an agreement with this institution on cooperation that crowned the past intensive mutual visits by groups of teachers and students and exchange of materials and exhibitions (e.g.,a series of exhibitions by teachers, students and ITF graduates were installed at the former imperial palace in Poznań, while works by Poznań students were put on view at the Silesian Regional Museum in Opava; the Ostrava Gallery Opera played host to a retrospective of the founder of the Poznań Department of Photo-graphy Prof. Stefan Wojnecki). Members of the ITF teaching staff often hold photogra-phic workshops abroad and take an active part in congresses and symposia on photography, or act as curators at photographic exhibitions; quite a number of their books have appeared abroad.
From among all Czech photographic schools, the Institute of creative photography boasts of the most extensive and publishing activity. For many years now, it has prepared programmes of photographic exhibitions for the Gallery Opera at the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava where it puts on view exhibitions of foremost Czech and foreign photographers (e.g. René Burr, Martin Parr, Paul den Hollander, Martin Kollár, Andrej Bán, Josef Koudelka, Václav Chochola, Miloň Novotný, Dana Kyndrová, Jan Šibík), thematic exhibitions (Bitter Years - Europe 1939-1947 Through the Eyes of Czech Photographers, Czech Photography of the 1990s, Speedily through the Czech World, The Young Slovak Photography, and also exhibitions by its students.
As of this year, it is preparing in a similar manner a programme Cabinet of Photography for the Art House in Opava. It has likewise installed numerous further exhibitions, e.g. at the Months of Photo-graphy in Bratislava, in Moscow and Kiev, at the International Photo-graphic Days in Herten or in various museums and galleries in Prague, Brno, Olomouc, České Budějovice, Cheb, Würzburg, Mu-nich, Aachen, Paris, Poprad, Katowice, Wrocław, Białystok, Vilnius, Kaunas and elsewhere. It also published a series of lecture notes (most recently a Reader from the Theory of Photography, compiled by Aleš Kuneš and Tomáš Pospěch), a bulletin: Listy o fotografii bringing in abundant material on the history of and contemporary photography, theory of photography or photographic pedagogy and is also distributed in Slovakia and Poland; then, the web journal www.photorevue.com, publishing topical reviews of exhibitions and books, rather extensive theoretical treatises and some students' seminar works. All that goes to show that the Institute of Creative Photography, after just thirteen short years of attachment to the Silesian University, now belongs among well-established and respected photographic schools and is known to professionals far beyond the frontiers of the Czech Republic.