Miroslav Tichý

By: Alix Lambert
November 20, 2011

MIROSLAV TICHÝ (1926-2011) was a painter, photographer, and self-described “observer of everything.” Born in Kyjov Czechoslovakia, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. After the Communist takeover, Tichý disavowed the new work method requirements of art students and left the academy; he spent several years doing compulsory military service and several years in prison (on what charges, it’s not clear). In 1972, a few years after the Soviet occupation, he was evicted from his studio, his work thrown out onto the street. He then began to construct fake-looking cameras out of cardboard, bottle caps, and Plexiglas (polished with cigarette ash and toothpaste to create lenses), and spent his days shooting photos at the local swimming pool. He developed his black-and-white images in a bucket. He embraced the resulting flaws, including bromine spots and streaks; asked to explain his method, he said, “You need first of all, a bad camera!” Tichý never exhibited his work until recently. In Roman Buxbaum’s 2004 documentary, Tarzan Retired, he tosses photographs on the floor, wipes dirt off paintings with a wet rag, and rejects his then-newfound recognition and fame. “If you want to be famous, you must do something worse than anyone else in the whole world,” Tichý insists. “Something beautiful and perfect is of no interest to anyone.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Chester Gould and Benoît Mandelbrot.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).


Art, HiLo Heroes

What do you think?

  1. Alix, thanks so much for this spotlight on Tichý! He is a revelation. I caught his show at the International Center of Photography in NY last year, on the last-minute recommendation of a friend (Hana Jakrlova, herself a brilliant Czech photographer). Not only his haunting photographs but many of his cobbled-together artifacts were on display, barely distinguishable from junk. It was like stepping over some kind of event horizon – a slow swirl in which you found you were already fully entangled. And there was a documentary, of him in his impossibly ramshackle hut, the very embodiment of marginalized, creating these instruments and almost-stalking his photographs, literally changing lead into gold.

  2. Ha! Just read this quote and thought it was wholly appropriate: “The loss of aura is the negative aspect of this hardness, of the hardware implied in the fabrication of the apparatus that produces the photo. The amateur retains the choice of subject and settings, but the manner is that of the maker of the apparatus, in other words of the state of industrial techno-science.” J.F. Lyotard, “Representation, Presentation, Unpresentable.” from The Inhuman – Reflections on Time, trans. Geoffry Bennington, Polity Press

  3. Hello – we are working on an articl about Tichy for next issue and wondered if you had a source for the great photo of him and also his camera?
    Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.