Vojtěch V. Sláma: Let’s Go, Kate! or A World That Didn’t Happen and Could Have Happened

There are two kinds of diaries: into the first one, we glue train tickets along with photos of fortuitous women and pressed flowers. We record in them events and reenact routs in minds. We keep these diaries so we will not forget about what was important. There is, however, still another kind of diaries; their records are irregular, and the pictures come forward as if traced. Recorded instances are quiet and empty. Spaces and moments “in between” gradually come to a full meaning by what didn’t happen and what could have happened. We keep these diaries so we will forget about what was not important.

It may be that the stories, which we so stubbornly seek in Vojtěch Sláma’s photographic diary, have actually never taken place. When we have a closer look at the individual pictures, we find out that there is no sign of action at all. They begin as well as end by the click of the release; they are completed by hints. We could even claim that the pictures set out against their own stories – they stop them and they hide from them. That’s why Sláma’s principle of depiction is anti-documentary. The vertical “sight” of the double-eyed reflex camera the author uses, cuts across and fixes the horizontal extent of the view. It thereby optically obstructs potential stories included usually in an oblong format – so characteristic of the documentary photography.
Vojtěch Sláma’s world of photography is a world four times bent into a square – and sometimes as many as eight times since the diagonally composed picture leans and turns as a cog-wheel. Objects from outside overlap into the picture corners, emphasizing thus the emptiness of their meeting-point in the middle. Centers of other photographs are filled with fractions of things slightly falling outside the border. The picture surface is cut apart by the scissors of legs in different perspective shortcuts, from time to time underlined by a horizontal axis of a road, water surface, windowsill or a boundary between two beds. Such photos of hinted things are altered by centrally composed portraits (or rather “still-lives of the face”), in which the author makes use of Christologico-Mariological types, compositionally augmented by a monumentalizing symmetry. The face circled by an aureole or the crown of thorns, or a look of a girl captured under the ice allure into the picture again and again and invite us to share its storylessness. Variable depth of sharpness blurs and relativizes the picture space of foreground and background. Considered in a broad sense – in a combination of a bird’s-eye view, worm’s-eye view and en face – in Sláma’s vast panorama, the surface of recorded reality turns over to all six sides. The constructed skeleton of such a “house of cards” is, nevertheless, fairly unstable.

How can it be possible then that the quiet world of Vojtěch Sláma actually firmly stands? What is it that binds it together? Let us try to decipher the answer in the author’s own face, which is often a reticent denominator of photographs. The construction of Sláma’s “box for making pictures” does not require an overlap of the photographer’s faces and his camera. The magic identification of the author with the machine is somewhat loose – and we are watched by four eyes instead of a single big one. The principle of mirroring inside the mechanism enables him to seize the chosen picture. The evil-eyed character of this double-sight goes crosswise. Ghostly self-portraits are far from the end of his acting through photography. A sensitive spectator catches his face many more times, in the form of a haphazard shadow, a deformed reflection on a car hood, an apparition behind the window or a silhouette inscribed on a photographed girl’s dress. It comes out only when the look behind the glass is shifted back a pace – as if the author wanted to make the world behind the photos real by applying his own face, accentuating him who is the creator, the guard and, at the same time, the only direct evidence of its existence. Due to a gradual revealing of the photographs and penetrating into them, it is more and more difficult for us to avoid a pertinacious feeling that without Vojtěch Sláma neither the particular photos, nor the world behind them would exist. It even seems that he can see and record only what he had been waiting for as for an object of (by principle vain) desire. He does not capture “the world around him”. He defines its contours, space and scents only retrospectively – making photos. And this is the essence of that ungraspable exclusivity of the universe presented by Sláma; it does not, however, accept any visitors. The call from the inside of this world is a call for beauty.
There is another question hanging over this place: what is the beauty that dwells in his realm? What strikes us most is, above all, its peculiar universality – the “call for beauty” is equally borne in space and time. The desire does not have precise coordinates, which only gradates its ability to fulfill. On the way from one photo to another we wander from a rural environment of Moravian countryside into a city with its retro-charm; the call of nature and the fascination by good old days do not reduce one another. A balladic gloomy bend over the water surface finds its reflection in the sheeny curves of old cars that “won’t go”. Water, splashed out of the lake, gets frozen in the whirl of a Parisian carrousel. A smoking cigarette in the ashtray on the table or dark footprints in the snow keep in mind for a second him who will be forgotten. And the author sets out once again for a long journey to be able to come across motifs that bring him back home, to the place where things are as close as “an evening over the plate”.
Nevertheless, Vojtěch Sláma does not travel only through space. The steady continuity of his search is also driven by the course of the year. In the sublimated melancholy of photographs, we feel a reflection of sadness of all the four seasons of the year, which, in fluent link-up, maintain an interval between “a joyful expectation of the suggested” and “ a quiet memory of the elapsed” empty. And so as soon as in one of the photos Skácel’s “little snow mill made of straw” finishes its creaks “somewhere above us”, in another picture there is the calm summer of Hrubín’s “romance for the bugle” dying away. Sláma’s pictorial invocation of beauty is brought about by the loss of a real place and a constant time; this herewith prevents its anchoring in chronotopos.

But this sadness from beauty is concealed; it is not even proper to write about it.
Below the woods, where “there is nothing”, on a place where nothing stops, there is a car waiting, with the trunk open. In the front, in the meadow, in an environment not usual for the given scene, there are two swans, fidgeting. Between the swans and the car in the background, in the central space reserved for Christ on the sensed water surface, stands a girl. The girl is a prototype of a frail femme fragile, who is often portrayed in paintings and literature as a young shepherdess in an idyllic landscape. The first image the photo evokes is a realized picture of a folk song: “A girl kept peacocks out at grass / In those pastures of green / Two lads came along to ask her out / Join us, lassie dear!” The photograph bears the title “Let’s Go, Kate!”.
The girl tears out of these circumstances in the same moment; she is actually a part of no pastoral idyll. She is standing at a safe distance from the swans she is watching with concern. At the same time she is being observed by the photographer and impatiently called from the woods. Her persistent existence is, in the framework of installed visual relations, a certain contra-event. It towers in the middle of pictorial plane like an exclamation mark displaced by inverted commas of the swans, breaking and thwarting the temporal and spatial course of a potential journey at the background. The central position on the surface of the picture as well as in the depth of the scene creates a distance in all directions; the figure clutching a kit and a bottle with water in the arms is hereby isolated from all events in the surrounding world. The alarmingly “idyllic” picture functions in a sacred timelessness, which is however comprehensible exclusively in this very instant: in the moment that lasts “on credit”.
And so it is this moment, full of meaning of “what didn’t happen and what could have happened”, when we are silently closing the diary. Kate will go on smiling at the swans and the car will never go away without her. The journeys back and forth are infinitely separated from the picture itself. From all Vojtěch Sláma’s pictures.
Lucia Lendelová

Vojtěch V.Sláma

Born (1974) in Brno, Czech Republic; his life has been connected with Brno and Jevišovice. A graduate of Secondary School of Artistic Crafts Brno, a member of group named Česká Paralaxa (Czech Parallax). A freelance photographer. At present a student of 2nd year of Institute of Creative Photography of Faculty of Arts and Science, Silesian University, Opava, Czech Republic.

Comes from a family of art tradition. First contacted with photo making at primary school. Only at the age of sixteen shows a deeper interest in photography. After a series of twists and turns — studies at Secondary School of Engineering and an attempt to obtain a professional photography education, accompanied by differences of opinion with the apprentice school concept — Sláma finally settled at SŠUŘ Brno; he graduated in 1996. During his secondary school studies a member of Jiří Víšek’s class. Still at SŠUŘ Brno, a co-founder of the Česká Paralaxa photo group (1995); the double-lens 6 × 6 cm reflex camera, related to the creative philosophy of Česká Paralaxa, has remained his sovereign apparatus for his production up to present days.

Among author’s significant works there is a cycle devoted to female figure skaters (carried out in Rondo Hall in Brno, 1997) or a cycle concerning the ballet ensemble of the National Theatre, Ostrava (a project done for Igor Vejsada, 1998—1999).

Vojtěch Sláma’s inherent need is travelling. He travels a lot; whether it is Quebec, India or Paris; for the author it is always a unique opportunity to acquire a new view of well-thought-out things, to chase away routine and to find a fresh desire for further production.