Review by: Robert Davis, Kosmas: Czechoslovak and Central European Journal - November 1, 2005
Marian Pauer, ed. Martin Martincek. Martin, Slovakia: Library of Matica Slovenska, and Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2003. 160 pp. ISBN 0865165165.
The only fault I can find with this volume of striking photographs of rural Slovak life that has all but disappeared is that the text introducing individual sections has not, unlike all the other printed material, been translated into English.
Fortunately, the biographical data and bibliographies at the end are accessible to Anglophones, and at least the outline of Martincek's career can be traced, from his birth and early education in the Liptovsky region just below the High Tatra Mountains in north central Slovakia, to his post-war government work, to his imprisonment, exile from Bratislava to his home region and physical labor, to his rehabilitation as a photog-rapher and a growing number of honors.
Most important, of course, are the black and white photographs, which stand majestically without commentary and could even do without captions. Except for a few soft-focus color photographs, some black and white shots that resemble abstract paint-ings, and others which anthropomorphize grains in wood, most of the plates show rural people and scenes from a world that has all but disappeared.
The people are mostly aged, some crippled, but their faces often have a dignity and even a sense of joy. In "At Noon," a man carrying a board on his shoulders casts a shadow like a cross. In "To the Field," angled house roofs turn to a jumble at the top of the photo, while in the foreground a wagon with a team of oxen and two tiny human figures moves parallel to the bottom of the image, the stillness and simplicity empha-sized by what lies above it.
The landscapes are equally impressive. "At the Old Cemetery" shows wooden crosses almost engulfed in swirls of grass, while other shots of strips of cultivated fields look almost like flags. "After the Harvest" depicts rows of haystacks receding to the horizon in a beauty that is not quite regular.
But the portraits of individuals are the major humanistic as well as artistic achievement of this volume, which, as far as I can tell from the bibliography, is the first by Martincek to be available to American readers. Judging from this collection, he stands easily in the company of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and other major land-scape photographers, as well as portraitists like Dorothea Lang and Walker Evans who captured the lives of simple people.
Robert Murray Davis
University of Oklahoma