Petr Žižák – [↖] tereza (2015); [↑] tereza (2015); [↗] bety (2014); [+] jen tak (2010); [↙] kamasutra (2010); [↘] bety (2014)
Žižák’s works in 6×6 exclusively–which I don’t believe to be the format most well suited to the type of work he’s pursuing. (In my mind–square formats are best suited to portraiture.)
Well, aren’t these portraits? Yes and no. Strictly speaking–from the photos above–you could make an argument that jen tak and the second one of bety (on the lower right) are portraits. (Both feature eye contact with the camera and so ostensibly with both the photographer and the audience.)
But something like kamasutra? No. That’s more whatever the fuck you’d call what Jan Saudek does…
Additionally, figuring out what Žižák‘s about is complicated by his lackluster and toothless editing. He presents his work separated out chronologically, it’s easy to see how he frequently includes two very similar images side-by-side (with one exception, the second image is always the better–and honestly I think the one exception has been purposely had the shot order switched in order to thwart would otherwise appear a rather staid and knee-jerk tendency to indulge base voyeurism over contemplative seeing.
Now I could be seeing things due to these poorly edited near duplicates but I don’t believe I am. After all, the first thing that commanded my attention was the way he uses his frames. It’s inspired, actually.
See one of the reasons square formats are better suited to portraiture is that you can situated your subject dead center and the frame will still scan in most cases. This being the case, most square work tends to be centered. Žižák? Not so much.
There are two things he does in particular that I think are very much worth studying: one deals with the distinction between finding a frame and constructing one; the other has to do with what I don’t know how to convey except to say that his frame edges are almost always permeable.
I think the vast majority of us find a frame as opposed to making one. It’s a bit like a dance. You find an alluring subject and then you try to position yourself and by dint a camera so that you can coordinate various respective positions in such a way that the world arranges itself neatly around the subject. Often its finding the square or rectangle surrounding the subject that is suggestive of some notion of ‘a photograph’.
Making a frame is different. It involves selecting a scene and then given that scene positioning various elements within that scene so that it reads in such a fashion as if one just happened upon it wait for you there in situ, as if by magic.
It’s partly the difference between street photography and landscape photography, partly dance vs choreography.
Almost without exception, Žižák favors to stand in relations to a backdrop in one of three ways–parallel to a backdrop or so that the backdrop recedes at an acute angle from either left to right or right to left (such as in the first photo of bety above).
Let’s stick with this photo of bety for a bit… see how there’s that small rectangle of an adjacent building in the upper left corner of the background. Žižák does something like this in just about every photograph he makes. (Although very much in the foreground of the adjoining photo of tereza, note how the rectangle along the edge of the frame is used not only to balance the composition–in this case offsetting the relative shadowness of the frame–but also seems to speak to their being continuous space beyond the frame edges’ boundaries.) Also, here the reflection also serves to opens the frame.
There are themes that become a bit cloying in the work. Žižák show a penchant for semi-clothed to nude; he’s models frequently forgo clothing below the waist and he definitely has a thing for women with books and cameras.
Some of the technical aspects of the work is uneven. It’s tough to tell if it’s the scans or that the stock was underexposed in camera but it’s rare for him to get things as perfect as he does in the photo of jen tak above–which is a thing of heartbreaking beauty.