Born in the Czech Republic Libuse Jarcovjakova photographer and lecturer can state that her life has taken place behind and in front of the lens.
In many respects these two aspects of her life blur. Subsequently it is difficult to extricate the two. In Libuse Jarcovjakova’s four-decade photographic career she has been inexorably drawn to the emotional vagaries of life but most significantly her own life. It is here where #itchysilk ventures.
From her first forays out of Communist Czech Republic as a youngster, green with wonder, Libuse Jarcovjakova has charted her life with a fearless approach. From explorations in sexual identity, sexual hedonism, freedom and isolation, to explorations in later life which acknowledge mortality, Libuse Jarcovjakova’s candour is compelling.
Through the lens as a catharsis Libuse Jarcovjakova has navigated her way through the complex web of life. While many years have passed since those early images, Libuse Jarcovjakova is evidently a soul still searching for meaning. Indeed, most of us are still searching.
We know that you were raised by your parents who were painters-just explain how your early life with them in the Czech Republic shaped your path into photography?
I grew up, in the fantastic 60s – a time full of new culture and great relief. My parents were painters, true bohemians. Prague under communist propaganda in the 50s was a very dark and frightening place. Political trials were in full swing and everyone was afraid of everyone. Nothing about that felt like home. My world was full of books, my parent’s paintings, and colors. My sensory triggers remain keen. Even now I love the smell of turpentine – it immediately brings me back to my childhood. When I was thirteen, I got my first camera. My first shots were rather ordinary – my sister, trees, the Vltava River. But the decision was born, I had a goal to become a photographer.
Explain how empathy has driven the images you capture.
Empathy is the key word. My ability to act like a sponge that absorbs everything from my surroundings is essential. I am deeply interested in people, their stories and their fates.
I kept asking myself; who am I, where am I, why am I here?
Tokyo 1978 – 60 days – walking through the city from the early morning till the late night. The photos from that time are more about the outer world. For the first time I left the Communist cage where I was locked in and I found a pure beauty. I was fascinated. Tokyo 1986 – 7 months – for the first time in my life I am working in assignment. Fashion business, hard work. My feelings are very ambivalent. I am happy to be there and in the same time I feel very lonely and lost. My personal photographic work helps me to find balance. I am writing a lot and my photographic style is more and more subjective. Dozens of auto portraits. Tokyo 1999 – 1 month – I am free, independent, just being there to feel, to observe, to be present.
In this modern day where selfies are narcistic promotional tools-what were you conveying in your selfies?
I kept asking myself; who am I, where am I, why am I here? Selfies were my mirror to find answers. This was particularly so in Berlin and Tokyo. In those countries I felt the most lost. In new environments, unfamiliar cultures, without the understanding of codes. The reflection in the mirror and its more permanent form – auto-portrait- I found the great tool that gave me many answers.
Photography was evidently catharsis?
Photography was for me a self-help tool from the very beginning. It was my return-ticket from all the chaotic relationships and situations in which I was entangled. In the modern time we are using navigation and Google maps – just to find our way. I had my camera, I had my darkroom, I had my prints.
Your ‘lack of a plan’ drove the Ziellos years-in hindsight did you need a plan?
‘I have climbed a tree, I see beautiful apples I can’t reach yet, but I’m closer than I would be if I climbed down… I have to keep climbing, even at the risk of falling’
This is a sentence from my diary (September 1986). I was continuously overstepping the borders and social stereotypes, pushing through the era’s stiff manners and morals. The curator Michal Nanoru wrote in the preface to the exhibition:
“The photographs in Ziellos (Berlin, 1985 – 90, Tokyo, 1978, 1986, 1998, and Prague) are records of, or rather participation in, existential interims, taken out of ordinary contexts, a web of relationships and everyday activities, which at other times verify our identities and give us a feeling of direction”
When I look back at my life – I always had a plan. Occasionally, from the conventional point of view, it could look like “as if I were living absolutely without a plan – ziellos, aimlessly”. I have and need a plan for my life. Sometimes it looks like a submerged river but I know it is here.
Your series about your mother was powerful. How difficult was it to document and chart her physical demise?
I was taking care of my paralyzed mother at home. After few months, I felt completely exhausted. The days were all the same; no progress was possible. I was trying to give her all my love and patience and I was pretty good at it. But I was caged in, cornered. Then I had the idea to transform this utterly tragic event into an artistic achievement. I started to photograph her with Canon Mark II but I had to stop. The pictures were too realistic, almost objective – I was too far. That is how I found my tool – an iPhone and Hipstamatic application; it changed everything.
I discovered the higher sense of this difficult period. During almost two years I collected over 8000 photos. Always the same situations, day, after day. My mom was very cooperative. As a visual artist, she was interested in the process, and she was curious to see what was coming out of it. It was a part of our daily communication. And as the audience reactions show – I managed to capture something that’s important to many of us.
Killer Summer, the theme of ‘freedom of self’ is evident.
Killer Summer and T-Club are closely intertwined. Since the 1980s I have been searching for my sexual identity. T-Club – one of two gay clubs in Prague – was a colorful stage. I entered and I was happy from very first moment . I was even more happy I could photograph there. It obviously had consequences for my private life and photos from the Killer Summer are a very personal documentary of this.
The wax work in your collection is interesting-it’s hard to know what she is thinking?
Some time ago I had a lecture on my work at a University in the USA. The professor asked me to remove this photo from the presentation. She was afraid that this photograph could hurt the feelings of the Afro-American students from the class. In fact – this is a photo of wax work – I didn’t portray the real person – I was just fascinated by this object in the Anthropological Museum in Madrid. I managed to transfer the mystery of this woman-it’s hard to know what she might be thinking.
In the when section you chart your life in 5year increments why?
Approximately 10 years ago I started to work on my archive. I was totally overwhelmed when I tried to close, finish, or organize something . I just drowned in the boxes of negatives. The chronological approach helped me a bit.
Demiurgs, what attracted to you to these people to the point of wanting to document them?
Demiurgs are people who have little money, poor health and a life seemingly falling apart. They live somewhat oddly-smoking in bed surrounded by piles of books, collecting stones, creating psychedelic nooks in their dwellings and rarely fitting in according to common norms. They seem to have become lost somewhere but they travel through life according to their own precise and unmistakable maps.
Is there is order in their lives?
Their worlds may at first appear to be chaotic, but you will see there is a strict inner order. In their presence I felt enriched thanks to their absolute authenticity and inner freedom. I recently renamed this project Habitats and Histories. I have been visiting some of the people regularly for several years and I am witnessing the slow effect of time on their life and my own life. Occasionally I manage to meet someone new who will allow me to enter quietly, observe and eventually to interpret his or her personal story.
Any photographic projects we can look forward to?
Last year I published the book The Black Years which introduces my authentic photographic and literary journals. Spanning the years 1971–1987, the journals wring out the black-and-white everydayness of Prague, Berlin and Tokyo, uncovering the beauty of the era as well as its decay. The book offers a combination of photographs, journals and letters mapping out 17 years of my raw young life. Czech publisher “wo-men” released the book in December 2016. Right now, I am working on the next book which should cover my life in Berlin. I am trying to finish the editing of my work from the 90s. Simultaneously I am working on one new photographic project. It is too early to speak about it in more detail. It is too fresh.