Art historian Anna Fárová dies at 81

Anna Fárová, photo: CTK

The acclaimed Czech champion of photography Anna Fárová died in Prague at the age of 81 over the weekend. Ms Fárová catalogued and exhibited the works of some great Czech photographers, including Josef Sudek and František Drtikol. Despite persecution by the communist authorities Anna Fárová also launched the first ever line of books on photography in Europe.

Anna Fárová,  photo: CTK
Anna Fárová was one of the first art historians and curators who saw photography as an art. Born in Paris to a French mother and a Czech father, she studied the history of art in Prague. She was struck by the artistic potential of photography when she saw a 1938 picture by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Anna Fárová later compared the photo, entitled ‘Cardinal Pacelli in Montmarte’, to a Baroque fresco. In 2008, Anna Fárová spoke to Radio Prague about her beginnings.

“I started my life in photography with Henri Cartier-Bresson. This was a man who was very important for me, and because I was an art historian, it was good for me to start with Cartier-Bresson and not Drtikol. Because Drtikol’s approach to photography is very painterly, and Cartier-Bresson gave me another direction, another way of reflecting what it means to see and work as a photographer.”

In 1958, Anna Fárová persuaded a state publisher to launch the first line of monographs on famous photographers. Named “Artistic Photography”, the first volume was dedicated to her French friend, Cartier-Bresson. But Ms Fárová also introduced Czech photographers to international audiences. She exhibited the works of Josef Sudek, František Drtikol, Jindřich Štýrský and others. In 1981, she organized a famous exhibition of 18 Czech photographers in the run-down monastery of Plasy, in western Bohemia, which received international attention.

“My friends – Henri Cartier-Bresson and Marc Riboud, French critics came, and English critics like Sue Davis came too, to look at this exhibition. It was even in Le Monde – that it is easy to go to this exhibition; you take the plane, you go to Prague, and then you take the bus and go to Plasy.”

After Anna Fárová signed the human rights manifesto Charter 77, she lost her job as a professor at the FAMU film school in Prague. She could also no longer work at the Museum of Decorative Arts whose photography collection she founded. But Ms Fárová continued to work for foreign publishers and organized exhibitions of Czech authors abroad. When asked in 2008 whether she ever wished to become a photographer herself, she said she knew what she was best at.

“No, no, no, never! I am not gifted, I am not creative. I am an interpreter, and I know what I can do well. I feel that I can discover talented people and help them express themselves. Perhaps it is like in sport where you have trainers and coaches. I can write - I like to write and put what I see in words. In this way I can express myself through the work of others.”