Issue #181  5/31/2011
Czech Photographer Miroslav Tichy Dies At 84

Czech Photographer Miroslav Tichý passed away April 12, 2011 in Kyjov, his home town, at the age of 84. He was born in Netcice, Moravia on November 20th, 1926.

After beginning his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, he began his career as a painter before becoming a photographer in the 1960s. His photography and his approach to it were bizarre and disturbing. He often acted as a voyeur taking pictures of women unaware on the street, in public pools, etc. His homemade equipment was equally strange. Tichý crafted his own cameras and enlargers of cardboard tubes, tin cans and other at-hand items, sanding lenses before coating them with toothpaste or other materials.

Of his technical methods, he once said, "First of all, you have to have a bad camera." He also says in the film about his life, "If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world."

In 1985, Tichý stopped making his photographs and again concentrated on drawing. Reportedly Film Director Roman Buxbaum discovered his photographic work in 1981. Buxbaum formed a foundation and promoted Tichý. A solo show of Tichý's work opened in 2004 in Seville. A retrospective was held in Zurich's Kunsthaus in 2005. That same year he was awarded the Prix de la découverte in the Rencontres de la Photographie d'Arles. In 2008 the Centre Pompidou gave him an exhibition. In 2010 the International Center of Photography showed 100 of his pictures and co-published a book with Steidl on his work.

In 2009, it was announced that Tichý had severed all ties with Buxbaum and the Tichý Oceàn Foundation's website. In a notarized statement dated 22 January 2009, Tichý stated that he made no agreement, written or oral, with Buxbaum to propagate his works, that Buxbaum exploits his works without authorization and violates his copyright, and that only he, Tichý's neighbor and "surrogate mother" Jana Hebnarovà, and his lawyer have the right to decide on the use and propagation of his works. Reportedly Hebnarovà was named Tichý's heir.

Besides this on-going battle, there has been considerable controversy about his work and its amateur look and condition. There have also been reports of many prints being sold as original Tichý's that are just clever imitations. Literally thousands of prints and negatives were made over Tichý's lifetime with little to no documentation. He reportedly only made one print from each negative. Once he had printed a picture, it was cast aside, dropped haphazardly about his home, exposed to dirt, damage, rats and insects.