Újezd 19, Praha 1 - Malá Strana

20. 7. – 20. 8. 2017 PETER ŽUPNÍK – NIGHT MEMORIES – PRAGUE 1983

Peter Župník was born on 14th August 1961 in Levoča, Eastern Slovakia to a Czech mother and Ukrainean father, the middle of three siblings. After graduating from the Middle School of Art and Craft in Košice in 1980, he went to study in Prague as one of the “discoveries” of the legendary professor Jan Šmok, who was always searching for exceptional talent in art schools within the former Czechoslovakia. Župník graduated from FAMU in 1986 and since then he’s been a freelance photographer. In the 1980s he was a member of the art group MOST (Bridge); he is also a member of the Prague House of Photography Association, but principally he’s known as a member of the legendary Slovak New Wave. Since the middle of the 1990s he’s been living and working in Paris.

Peter Župník is one of the most distinctive members of the so-called “Slovak New Wave”. At the end of the 1980s, photo historian Anna Fárová drew attention to the progressive group of eight Slovak pre-revolution graduates from FAMU. Peter Župník came out as the most poetic of the group and at the same time he was the only one who didn’t practice the so-called “staged photography”. He was happy with reality and combined it with fantasy and imagination. Župník’s black and white photographs originated from black and white reportage photography; however since the start they carried the footprints of lyricism and a sense of the surreal. Gradually his subtle and delicate work on these black and white photographs became painterly and this became his unmistakable signature.

The finished photographs impressively shift the borders of reality by discovering hidden arcane meanings beneath ordinary objects and tableaux. Nature, landscape, cities, architecture, people and animals change into symbols in Župník’s photographs; they pass on messages from our subconscious or collective unconscious, they are the gate to deeply felt layers hidden beneath the suface of the ordinary.

Whilst at FAMU and 22 years old, he created a striking set of night images of Prague, which at the time was the socialist capital of Czechoslovakia. More than thirty years later, this set of photographs is a surprisingly strong testimony of Prague before the revolution. The author captures the city and its people in night time nakedness, exposed by the camera flash - curiously but sensitively, with fascination, love and empathy. The photographer captured the city at a time when it carried the weight of hundreds of years of history and dozens of years of communism with its shoddy elegance, sadness and nostalgia. The young student from eastern Slovakia, with a vision free from preconceptions and prejudice, but full of curiosity and fascination, was discovering an unknown big city at night full of ghosts of the past heading for uncertain tomorrows. He described his nightly creative adventures in 1983: ”I don’t know Prague, I soak up everything. I walk around a lot and with my eyes devouring places and recesses which speak to me. Times are strange, many things don’t function normally. I like the night; the city is quiet, most people are at home, they start work early in the morning. The night is for visitors and German tourists. I don’t seek that. I photograph the footprints of human activity and time. At night I walk through the city I know in the daytime and am fascinated by the ability of the flash which seems to denude, highlight and establish a new rule of contrasts. I can sense what this strong light is going to reveal. I look for symbols and shapes, reinterpreting ordinary things. I look for my image, a composition of banalities, an order in chaos, I let myself be freely carried away by my vision and feeling. I then gather the courage to photograph the people I meet. I try to capture a variety of different characters. I don’t look for sensations nor taboos within the socialist metropolis. Here I don’t have time to compose; I am glad that in the darkness I manage to focus. Dozens of years later I look through my archive and I discover my Prague “flash” negatives. I travel through time, I fish for feelings of that time, I try to compose a mosaic of both living and inanimate images, which I then put together during successive selections and they begin to speak their own language. I am an observer again; this time of my own past.”

The collection NIGHT MEMORIES - PRAGUE 1983/In a Flash is exhibited in Prague for the first time. In 2003 it was shown, in a different form - in the form of diptychs in the Czech Center in Paris. THE SET IS HERE completed with a few large format prints on paper and wood and also by several original photographic enlargements with added painting.

Peter Župník’s photographs are in Maison européenne de la photographie Paris collections, Centre Georges Pompidou,  Musée de l‘Elysée Lausanne, UMPRUM Prague and in private collections.

Curator: Nadia Rovderová, Prague, June 2017

© Nikon CEE GmbH, odštěpný závod, 2017