New photography exhibition documents final years of communism

Photo: Lubomír Kotek

Rundown buildings, empty shop-windows and ever-present grayness – that’s the focus of a new photography exhibition called ‘Tady bylo Husákovo’ – ‘This Once Was Husák’s Country’, which is now on display at Prague’s Louvre Gallery. The collection of photographs by Lubomír Kotek documents the atmosphere of Prague streets in the years preceding the Velvet Revolution.

The title of the exhibition – ‘This Once Was Husák’s Country’ – refers to the last communist president Gustav Husák. The pictures were taken in the mid-1980s and reveal the bleak atmosphere of the era. The photographs are accompanied by personal commentaries written by Lubomír Kotek’s friends, such as sociologist Jiřina Šiklová and writer Josef Klíma.

At his exhibition at the Louvre Gallery, Kotek explained why he had decided to document the uneventful and bleak life in the communist era:

“First of all, it’s a tradition to document things around us in the Czech Republic. And second, I was friends with art historian Anna Fárová, who lost her job after signing Charter 77. There was a group of photographers who cooperated with her. We discussed my work and she motivated me to continue. She used to say: ‘this won’t be here forever’. Of course at that time I didn’t believe it would ever end and I wanted to quit many times.”

Luckily, the photographer, who is 41, continued to record what he saw and his pictures now reveal some extraordinary scenes from Prague under communism. On his part, he says taking pictures helped him staying sane:

“The photographs helped me to survive the era. By taking the pictures, I was showing what was around us and pointing at things, while others pretended not to see what was going on and kept it inside. So I kept my head clear and I was in a better condition than many of my friends.”

Though the pictures were taken just a few years before the fall of communism, Lubomír Kotek says no one was ready to look back in the years that followed. Now, twenty years later, he thinks we are ready to appreciate the change:

“The pictures bring back memories of course. When I dusted off the old photos after the years, I realized they were still very powerful. And I think it is necessary to remind ourselves of the past times so they would never come back.”

The exhibition Tady Bylo Husákovo runs until January 3, 2010.