Roland Barthes established the notion of photographs as frozen moments. But the photos of Prague-based artist Markéta Othová appear to take their time. How so? These are pictures of inconspicuous, everyday, often trivial things: a pair of shoes, a plate with two eggs, an armchair in front of a window, a gnarled tree and many landscapes (all are untitled). Othová travels a great deal and, on the road, she sometimes takes pictures from a moving car of landscapes with and without trees, of meadows and parks, of beaches. Few of her photographs show people; most are in black and white. They are created in an off-the-cuff, even absent-minded way; Othová doesn’t look for motifs to capture deliberately from a particular angle. Instead, her camera functions not unlike human perception, which also stores images away in memory without registering them consciously, to be brought out again, sometimes years later, prompted by some event. The pictures taken by Othová’s camera, too, remain hidden away for long periods before coming to light. In the meantime, they are kept in an archive and only enlarged (sometimes years) later.
This extended process may not be the only reason for the distinct quality of Othová’s photographs, but knowing about it certainly helps to explain the strange impression that they are not about capturing moments but whole stretches of time. Like images raised from the depths of memory, these pictures from the archive also depend on some event in the present to prompt the artist to ‘rediscover’ them. And this time lapse between capture and display seems to permeate the resulting prints. Neither historical nor current, they are both contemporary and nostalgic: for example, the image of a black plate next to a white plate (2009) looks as if it could have been the result of a random constellation on a kitchen table, just as much as it feels like a careful arrangement that was intended to last.
Othová’s photographs are often compared to the visual poetics of the Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896–1976), who explicitly viewed photography as a form of memory. This exhibition demonstrates that the comparison is justified. The photographs in the show were taken over the course of the last six years. This time, rather than showing just black and white pictures in one format as she usually does, Othová included colour shots and prints in three different formats. Some of the prints were glossy, others matte. Some were sharply focused, others seemed to be emerging from a haze. And, as in previous shows, they were arranged by the artist into an ingenious installation adapted to the specific space – one that Othová views as an unrepeatable whole. The prints were hung in a single row, organized around a central symmetrical axis, so that each photograph of an object or landscape appeared twice, once in a mirrored version, beginning with two small colour prints of a picture showing wooden blocks stacked in a garden. Walking around the space, you came across a picture of an apple tree, a pile of books, a stack of playing cards ... Hold on, haven’t I just seen those? But somehow slightly different? Which of the two is the original? Images from memory are activated, new images added, old ones become present again, as in the process of remembering. This, too, lends the pictures a sense of duration, as they literally occupy the physical space between the versions of them one gets to see, while all of them together are woven into a fragmented, meandering narrative, as if uncovering what had been buried out of sight in memory. Othová recalls W.G. Sebald – like his writing, her photographs gradually set memory in motion.
translated by Nicholas Grindell