Vladimir Birgus—Photographs 1981-2004

by Matt Damsker


Share This

Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on linkedinShare on pinterestShare on tumblrShare via email

Published by KANT. ISBN No. 80-86217-78-7. Available through D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 155 Sixth Ave., New York, NY 10023. Newly released in English. Phone: 1-212-627-1999; and Vice Versa Vetried, Dresdner Str. 118, D-10999 Berlin; phone +49-30-61609236; fax: +49-30-61609238; viceversa@comp.de . KANT email: kant@znet.cz ; Vladimir Birgis web site: www.birgus.cz ; email: vlbirgus@volny.cz .

Birgus's rigor and vision in co-curating that wonderful survey of Czech photography extends to his own work as well, and this 20-year chronicle of his artistry is filled with striking, consistently edgy photos. As Elzbieta Lubowicz notes in her introduction, Birgus uses large areas of dominant color--often primaries, and often red or yellow--to create an "unrealistic atmosphere [that reminds] us of abstract paintings more than of reality recordings." And yet his images are always in touch with the grit and texture of the modern, urban world. The human figures in his geometrically flattened landscapes of intersecting planes, shadows and sun-struck color are recognizably self-absorbed, often standing or walking in relation to one another, but without narrative or emotional connection.

The result is a singular photographic strategy that celebrates random visual fact, the coloristic beauty of everything from industrial materials to blue sky, and the human form as a means of activating and offsetting the inanimate forms that press in on us. Across the beaches, tiles, boardwalks, landing strips, streets, and rooftops of cities from Moscow to Paris, Seattle to New York, Birgus makes haunting, expressive photographs that reward the eye with glancing detail, fragmented narrative and rich natural light. His tendency to capture his own shadow as he takes the picture may echo Lee Friedlander without Friedlander's wit, but in the course of 20 years, Birgus manages to not repeat himself or fall prey to preciousness. His art brings the taut, toughened Czech sensibility into a wider world of big sky, sea, and postmodern architecture--and the result is usually something we have not seen before.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published this past November.