Exploring the Exoticism of the Everyday

It took Martin Kollár quite a while to understand that nothing he wanted to photograph in Slovakia required a search for the extraordinary: He “who can see”, the artist realized, can find it anywhere. In housing estates where his friends live; in small towns where he stops to have a warm lunch while on a trip; in villages to which his job as a cameraman on a documentary film takes him; in the countryside that flanks the road to his destination.

Martin Kollár also discovered a long time ago that his subjects do not have a fixed address; that he rarely finds them at the end of his journeys, where “something is supposed to happen”, but almost always on the way towards these destinations. That’s why he spends far more time and shoots many more good pictures in places where “nothing happens” than in spots where most other photographers look for “good photographs”. Kollár’s topics are simply everywhere that people live their everyday, ordinary lives. These topics emerge both incidentally and inevitably from the most diverse environments and the most banal situations that capture his attention, appeal to him, excite him or move him.

However, the transformation of a situation into a subject has an unpredictable timing of its own even for the most prepared artist. Such situations often arise for a split second, and the artist can easily miss it if he is not gifted with intuition, the professional anticipation which raises the camera to his eye and pushes the shutter release.

Martin Kollár has discovered the capricious magic of everyday life. His photographs document our times, and his search for them represents a kind of contemporary archaeology. It is his own kind of archaeology: very non-systematic, very private, and absolutely personal because the photographer and his camera enter reality very discreetly and inconspicuously. What determines the selection and timing of each work is the artist’s participation: his interest, his empathy, his feeling of interrelation and compassion, but also the necessary aloofness that enables him to communicate the reality that has captured his attention, appealed to his heart and excited his mind with charitable irony or coarse sarcasm.

As the artist says himself, it has often happened that a picturesque situation which he had anticipated has vanished into thin air before he managed to push the shutter release. Equally often, these situations have not metamorphosed into a subject, a “revelation” teeming with internal thrills and suspense, sparkling between several levels of meaning, but on the contrary have remained the stuff of a mediocre “snapshot”. The memory of each photographer is full of hundreds of faded revelations which he has missed altogether or timed poorly.

Martin Kollár seems to be excited especially by people living in natural, authentic environments. He immortalizes them along with external and often bizarre displays and manifestations of the here and now: stickers, labels, banners, notice boards, signboards, advertisements and inscriptions that are increasingly full of strange, mostly English words; visual signs that lost their original meaning a long time ago but somehow, due to a strange inertia, continue to put the finishing and often comic touches to short one-act plays featuring Slovak people; bizarre islets of consumerism that teem with shams embodying the “new quality of life” on the very verge of scarcity; bleak collections of kitsch embodying the epilogue of a performance that is nearing an end, along with the naive hope of seeing the curtain rise on a new play.

Martin Kollár also purposefully utilizes the unmethodical, dilettantish and inorganically built-in “artifacts of modernization” such as lamp-posts, pylons, satellite dishes, phone booths, bus stops and other outbuildings that often blemish and even thwart the original composition. In Kollár’s Slovakia, however, these additions play an irreplaceable role. It is exactly these imperfections that create the enchanted patina of our present day.

Martin Kollár is easily excited by non-stylized social still-lifes in which the main role is played by his heroes – “prisoners of the everyday”. It is not greatly important who makes up the actual cast of silent “characters” (many of whom are four-legged) in these extremely short visual skits. What matters very much is the clarity and lucidity of the skit’s internal dynamism. Kollár’s skits are in fact stories that have been “frozen” by the author at the moment of their climax. The viewer may easily imagine each story’s probable narrative and catharsis.

Viewed from another angle, it may be said that Martin Kollár documents an enchanting and permanently occurring framed “everydayness”, over which the remote directors have extremely little influence, if any at all. The main reason is that Kollár’s prisoners of the everyday can get by very well without them. They are adaptable, usually thrown on their own resources, but also lumbering, fatalistic, and often movingly lonely. And somewhere backstage in a big theatre called The World, it seems that they are satisfied with themselves and their little roles – at least on the inside.

Every now and then, the observer may get the feeling that this self-satisfaction will soon mingle with lethargy. But Kollár’s Slovak aborigines seem to have a foreboding that if history moved them for several weeks or months to the fore and pushed them into the spotlight of some of the main stages of the increasingly globalizing world, then the poignant idyll of Carpathian everydayness which they have already accepted could easily become (as has happened many times before) the focus of dramatic shots of TV networks’ news coverage that would cast most of them in the roles of victims. So they remain backstage and enjoy the feeling that they have managed to outwit the future. At the same time, they have hedged their bets in case the future deals them poor cards.

Sometimes, Martin Kollár also seeks situations that spontaneously emerge in places where everyday life grows more condensed and accelerated. He enjoys attending events that are announced by posters on local billboards: harvest Thanksgiving, husky dog races, scything competitions, etc. But he does not seek his topics at the epicentre of these events, rather on their periphery, where they appear as if by the “magic of the unintentional”, as side-products of temporarily condensed everydayness. It is exactly at those places, on the fringe of official events, where the best dramas, burlesques and farces can be found. It is exactly in those plays where the prisoners of everydayness can be seen as actors with an incredibly diverse repertoire.

Martin Kollár has discovered Slovakia’s quotidian life to be both an adventure of knowledge and an impetus to self-reflection: “I travel through Slovakia and imagine it as a miraculous and exotic country. I like to discover it for myself because I feel that from every trip I am returning a little more mature and a little better able to orient myself in my own everydayness…”

Kollár’s Pictorial Report on the State of Slovakia is a kaleidoscope of everyday life in which we are all held up for our own inspection.


Eugen Gindl

Martin Kollár, www.martinkollar.com

Born 23 November 1971, Žilina

1992-1997 the Academy of Performing Arts, Bratislava

                   the Film faculty, camera department


1995 photographer to The Garden (d. M Šulík 100min)

         photographer to The Kiss of Passion (d. M Šindelka  90min)

1997 photographer to Orbis pictus ( d. M Šulík 105min)

1999 Pepiniéres europeénes pour jeunes artistes,

         a photo-stipend, June - September, Luxemburg

2000 Czech-Press-Photo: 2nd prize, in category –Everyday Life

                                          2-prize, in category – Art

2001 A full-year photo-stipend : Annual Country Report

         awarded by the Institute for Public Affairs- IVO

2001 FujiFilm Euro Press Photo Awards, national level: 1st prize        

One - Artist Exhibitions

2000 Gallery Profil, Bratislava ( October )

2001 Pálfy Pallace, the metropolitan gallery of Bratislava,

          within the Month of Photography,(november-december 2001)

Joint Exhibitions:

1998 New names in Slovak documentary photography, The House of

          Photography, Poprad (february)

1999 Nie-licht gallery, Dudelange Luxemburg (September-October)

1999 AFAD - APA Médium Gallery, within the Month of Photography 

          Bratislava (November)

2000 Central –Europe Colony of Contemporary Art, Terezín,


2000 CzechPressPhoto, Praha (November-January)

2001 Substistances, Lyon (January)

2001 Young Slovak Photography, Fotofestival Herten, Germany    


2001 Slovak Photography 1925-2000, the Slovak National Gallery