Issue #130  7/18/2007
New Books: Stanko Abadzik

By Matt Damsker


Essay by Natasa Segota Lah (translation by Tomislav Kuzmanovic). 2007, Fraktura; 250 pages, approximately 200 black-and-white plates. ISBN No. 978-953-266-006-2. Price $55, plus shipping. To purchase signed copies contact info@vintageworks.net or call +1-215-822-5662.

While Eastern European photographers--from Sudek, Kertesz, Koudelka and others--established a dark modernism that lent spiritual intensity to our experience of their corners of the world--an insular world of fragile beauty, brute Stalinist reality and the long gray Soviet sky--their younger brethren are shining fresh light on the post-Soviet world. Prime among them, Stanko Abadzik is, at 54, a venerable presence, but the photos collected in this book extend back no farther than about 10 years, when the fall of the Berlin Wall was the energizing force in European realism.

Abadzik's images of Berlin, Prague, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Zagreb and the towns of Eastern Europe are nothing if not celebratory, preferring to capture the sheer, simple power and magic of sun and shadow playing over a world that has rather beautifully survived itself. Thus, the shots of empty cobblestone streets viewed in long perspective, or the images of townsfolk idling by cafes or bicycling acrobatically, are not so much moody dispatches from the edge as they are character studies now hopefully lit, it seems, from within as well as from without. Indeed, the glass and steel of Berlin skyscrapers, with the fighting image of Muhammed Ali dominating one huge façade, or a rural billboard plastered with Andy Warhol's portrait of Mao, become, through Abadzik's lens, cheerful reminders of pop globality in the most specific of settings.

This warm pop sensibility may be new to Eastern European photography, but it certainly feels right. It is also charmingly palpable in Abadzik's more traditional studies--of an alley in Dubrovnik, with laundry hung high above, or of a nun making her solitary way--in which bright sunlight winks at us through the heavy shadows. At the same time, the wonder of shadow, its way of abstracting the simplest image--of a gate, an archway, or the slats of a window treatment--is one of Abadzik's abiding affections, and he makes richly patterned Op art from such found material. There is a lot of delight to be found in this excellent compendium of Abadzik's art, and while Natasa Segota Lah's accompanying essay makes rapturous descriptive and philosophical connections for us ("The artist knows very well that simplicity is the result of the most complex modes of intellectual and emotional abstraction."), it suffers somewhat from an awkward English translation.

But Abadzik's passionate and affectionate eye speaks volumes for itself, and truly needs no explication. Images of dogs making their way, ploddingly, against a wonderfully high, lamp-lit wall in Prague, or of a skateboarder suspended over his twisting shadow in a context of curved space, are unforced masterworks, while Abadzik's portraits of people--accordionists and bench-sitters, leggy models and old women--are expressive and joyful in their embrace of humanity. There is really no rhetoric here, and no real darkness amidst the shadows--just the pure power of time, place, personality and photography.

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 in the fall of 2005. He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)