Review by: Vladimir Vorobjov - April 17, 2001
A Book about the Original Slovakia in an Original Way
In the 50s-60s of the 20th century, life in the Slovak countryside, particularly in villages and remote, secluded settlements, still preserved the originality of a distinctive association under numerous aspects. This attracted the attention of well-known photographers, e.g, Marketa Luskacova from the Czech province illustrating the unusual ethnic group in the upper Hron river valley, or Martin Martincek from among Slovak authors who portrayed the people of liptov. In the 1960s-1970s, Martincek published four books on this topic which proved an inspiration to the foremost Slovak film director Dusan Hanak to turn his film "Pictures of an Old World" (1970s) rated as the best Slovak film. Several photographers remained in the background mainly because their works failed to appear in book form or some other mode of publication. Until recently, one of these was also IgorGrossmann (1924) who, 50 years back, systematically portrayed the life and customs of people for the most part in another typical Slovak region - tha of Rajec. He published his pictures scattered in various journals and only lately, after these many years decided to collect and edit his earlier works from 1950-1965 as a book which simultaneously serves as a guide to his ongoing travelling exhibition in the U.S.A. In it Grossmann has included not only his best works published during that period, but also photographs totally unknown so far, selected from his own voluminous archives. He divided the resulting collection into precisely defined chapters: "Home" - "Roots" - "Beauty" - "Pleasure" - "Memory" - "Heritage." He asked Milan Rufus perhaps the most distinguished contemporary Slovak poet, to write a Preface and the introductory poems to the various chapters and Martin Slivka from the Music and Drama Academy, for an expert study. He himself wrote the introduction and the epilogue to the whole publication and is also the author of the graphic design.
This gave rise to a book unique in severa respects. First and foremost, thanks to the photographs in which Grossmann in his early works, preceding those of others, clearly reveals himself as an author with his own distinctive handwriting and an ability to raise his admiration and respect for the people of this country to a work possessing not Solely artistic traits, but also ethnographic and sociological values and make it into a convincing document. What is of importance is that he has succeeded. in his own personal way, to get close to what is original in the life of simple country folks and, after the manner of a systematic study, give testimony to it - testimony remarkable by its content and form. Given that all the texts (including Rufus's poems) are in English, the book addresses the reading public at large both by word and picture.
Although books with this topic published in Slovakia are among the best in our pictorial literature, Grossmann, by his precise build-up, ingenious arrangement of pathetic and matter-of-fact photographs, his linking of the poetic word and expert analysis, has added something specific. The images are not gone completely with the wind, quite the contrary, they have ripened, matured and today provide an incredible amount of evidence regarding jewels of our past. Through this book, Grossmann has taken a well-deserved place among Slovak photographers whose work forms part of the contemporary history of world photography.
Review: Slovo - April 6, 2000
Images Gone With Time:
Photographic Reflections of Slovak Folk Life: 1950-1965
A Review by Emma Nezinska
If Trnava is the "Slovak Rome," so now the world?renowned photographer Igor Grossmann (born in 1924) is certainly the Paul Gauguin of Slovak photography. At the very least, this is because Grossmann decided to renounce the security of his career in medicine in order to dedicate himself exclusively to the enthusiasm of the hobby of his youth ?? photography.
The daring of both men has historically fully paid off. The first, at one time a stock?broker, became one of the founders of modern art. He made Tahiti famous through his insanely intense colors. His monumental allegory asked, "Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?" Now, in a new book of wonderful photographs, a physician from the little town of Rajec in the Slovak countryside of the has interceded for Slovakia and its "own legitimately-established world" through photographic images "etched into the memory of the earth." These images are not subject to fire or sword, nor to any other destruction; they will be an eternal witness of who we are.
In the time of superficial "signals," prevailing in our unequal dialogue with the headquarters of prestigious Western institutions, the work Images Gone with Time is a welcome alternative, with its well?grounded and serene ethnographic-sociological probe into the recent past of the Slovak village. The Slovak village ?? a self-supporting community of small technologies ?? was a free, "individual, independent and distinctive, an age-old enclave. Polished to a strikingly beautiful perfection by an unchanging existence, ancient and uninterrupted." (Milan Rufus, "The Secret of the Pebble in the River.")
Fascinated by this living paradox, Igor Grossmann lets his camera determine and at the same time eternalize the essence of the village universe. "The deeper he plunged himself in its world, the more valuables he brought forth from its depths to the surface." (Martin Slivka)
Images Gone with Time is a photographic record about the struggle of a people for their daily bread, about love and joy in a culture redeemed with difficulty, paid for with great effort ?? where the sense of obligation and duty was the primary virtue -? and also about the tasteful, artistic imagination of the farming society, which spins beauty from wood, colors, cloth, and reverie. But at the same time it is also a Grossmann event ?? a happening of extraordinary empathy, respect and affection toward something as "simple as home," with a fidelity to memories as an irreplaceable part of our identity.
The carefree and foolish carnival joy of Shrovetide springs forth from the photography found on the front dust jacket. Exuberant riotousness, unbridled play. But: for this book the bewitched physician took out from his box of photographs also scenes of the most sorrowful moments of this closed-up community. The harmony between the documentary and the artistic is as characteristic for Grossmann's photography as for this Images Gone with Time. It is actually a photographic "carved Bethlehem?creche" of the Slovak world, which is physically no more. Its status as a legacy is indeed very special.
The woman binding twisted straw onto the sheaves at harvest time, the fields on the hillside, the winter countryside with the peasant fertilizing it, the wooden cornices on a folk structure, the ploughman, the shrine of the cross shrine in the field, the old woman on her way to a gravesite, the woman laundering in a frozen stream, children's games according to some old custom, the woman in folk costume in front of the decorated home, the woman at the hand?loom, the man transporting wood from the hills on sleds in snow, the coachman with horses carrying straw from the hills, the man pulling the hay?sled up a steep hill during haymaking, a man cutting hay, a woman digging potatoes in the hills, the peaks of wooden homes - all a true treasure for the researcher of Slovak ethnography. The photographer intimately recognizes this life determined by the cycle of agricultural work, and its inherent ethos. He offers it its well?merited homage.
In catalogues of the most renowned world libraries there are hardly any books about Slovakia in English: the English-language books on Slovakia that are available simply do not fulfill the technical and aesthetic criteria for publications to be sold in the North American market. Yet, with regard to Images Gone with Time ?? thanks to the cooperative efforts with an established foreign publisher -- the book does just that. Besides dealing with publishing and marketing issues, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers has seen to the presentation of the book in an English-speaking world, to the purchase of copies for wide sale on world markets, and to the guarantee of accessibility of this publication in wholesale book trade warehouses in North America, so that this masterpiece would be available to individuals, to large international booksellers, and to internet book sales sites.
The bilingual publication Images Gone with Time (Obrazy odviate casom) is the outcome of the cooperative efforts of poet Milan Rufus, film director and author Igor Grossmann, art critic Martin Slivka, designer Anton Fiala from the Slovak publishing house FO ART, and, last but not least, the American publisher Bolchazy?Carducci Publishers, Inc. This black and white photography book represents a stunningly beautiful embroidery of images and ideas about Slovakia since before the mid-twentieth century. It also consists of the skillful verbal?iconic articulation of the meaning and beauty and dignity -- indeed even the noblesse -- of everyday life and destiny of a modest people. The ambition of those who participated was to examine??with affection ?? and to recall the times when plowing was truly difficult work and working hard was still a socially revered virtue. In the case of Dr. Ladislaus J. Bolchazy (a Slovak?American, a scholar, and the president of Bolchazy?Carducci Publishers), it is also a pioneering and nostalgic decision to make books from Slovakia accessible to the English?speaking world. Indeed the cooperative effort with his publishing house in the United States resulted in a superior editing of the English text of Images Gone with Time, registration with the United States Library of Congress ("CIP") and the guarantee of North?American International Standard Book Number number. These secondary issues are crucial to the success of Slovak books in the world market, and for the past ten years, Dr. Bolchazy has been emphasizing them during his yearly visits to Slovakia. Ignoring these secondary matters, we can, no doubt, but curse our unfortunate lot, but the world's gates will remain closed to us nevertheless.
Every book published in English and financed from public sources must have a co-publisher and distributor in America if we want more visibility for our country and our culture. There is no point in more vitriolic complaints about how simply conceited and ignorant the "West" is: that Westerners do not have even an inkling of what an age?old and cultured European people we Slovaks are! Let's tell them this just so nicely. This means, of course, telling them nicely in English and in a way they are sure to hear.
Dr. Emma Nezinska
(Translated from the Slovak by Gerald Sabo, SJ)
March 29/April 4, 2000