Václav Chochola born 100 years ago

Václav Chochola, a native of Prague’s Libeň district, is often associated with snapshots of city suburbs. But he also photographed famous Czech and world personalities such as Jan Werich and Salvador Dali.

Photo: Václav Chochola,  © Archiv B&M Chochola

Chochola’s famous series of portrait photographs of the then 70-year-old Dali holding an egg or sitting on a divan with a walking stick became his best known works worldwide. Dali himself was full of praise for them. How much he liked them is proven by another iconic photo, where Dali holds an image of himself taken by Chochola while striking his well-known pose.

The photo of the famous surrealist appeared on the front page of the Czech magazine Ahoj na sobotu in January 1970. At the time, the photographer was being held in Ruzyně prison.

Photo: Václav Chochola,  © Archiv B&M Chochola

Václav Chochola was born on 30 January 1923 and first began exhibiting his photographs at the start of the Second World War. An active sportsman, the subject of his snapshots was often the familiar environment of athletic competitions. During the war he met Karel Ludwig and Zdeněk Tmej, with whom he set up a joint studio.

His work takes inspiration from the atmosphere of the big city, as well as significant Czech cultural figures such as František Tichý, Jiří Šlitr, Kamil Lhoták and Jan Werich, and world-renowned personalities: in addition to the aforementioned Salvador Dalí, he also photographed Man Ray, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Max Ernst, and the famous art collector Kahnweiler.

Palach's mother immortalised at her son's grave

In mid-January 1970, Chochola photographed Jan Palach’s mother at her son’s grave in Olšany Cemetery. It had been exactly one year since her son had burned himself to death.

Pictures of Václav Chochola from the funeral of Jan Palach | Photo: Czech Television

The photographer took the pictures for the French journalist Alain Valtat, who was followed at every step by the state security forces in Prague. Eventually, both men were arrested.

Letter to Václav Chochola from Jan Palach's mother,  Libuše Palachová | Photo: Czech Television

For photographing Palach’s grave, Chochola spent two weeks behind bars before receiving a suspended sentence. None of the pictures he took in Olšany on 16 January 1970 ever got published. The secret police destroyed them all. The only items left to the family after the security forces had raided the house were his photos of Jan Palach's funeral – and a letter from Palach’s mother, Libuše, reacting to the failed photo shoot.

The legend of Czech art and portrait photography died in 2005. He left behind an extensive archive of work, which is looked after by his daughter Blanka and grandson Mark.

More information and examples of his work can be found at www.vaclavchochola.cz.

Photo: Václav Chochola,  © Archiv B&M Chochola