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Tool of the Trade:
twin lens reflex camera.

E... F... does not bind life around her with a rope
to prevent it from fleeing
and she does not watch it through the window
to see its struggles, conflicts, victories and losses
preferences for some and hatred for others
beating its head against a wall
taking off in vain
or fiercely digging in the ground
but she loves it
and asks: What does its angry laughter mean
its dazzling song and blinding dance?
how to tame the light
capture shadows and win time?

– From the poem by Jiri Kolar, Prague 1961



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Where is Czechoslovakia?

Eva Fuka was born and raised in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The castle in this picture can be seen from most points in the city of Prague, and if you have ever been there you would probably recognize it as the “Prague Castle.” The river in the photograph runs right through the center of Prague. Christian Peterson, Associate Curator of Photography at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, chose this photograph because it is a document of Prague and there are few photographs of Czechoslovakia in the museum’s collection. Peterson thought that this photo would help visitors understand Fuka’s other work in the collection.

Prague, a city in the heart of Europe,
is the place where I was born.
A city of strange remembrances of the past,
mysterious and full of contradictions.
Here, Arcimboldo, the father of surrealism,
created his masterpieces in the late sixteenth century;
Franz Kafka spent his short life in the cobblestoned center of this city;
and, within the medieval walls of Prague’s ghetto,
the first robot Golem was born.
It is a city which influenced me deeply and forever.
Why did I choose a camera as an instrument of expression?
It allows me to show my love and admiration for confrontation,
contrast, and the absurdity of life.
Photography opens my eyes to save those unique moments
otherwise doomed to be lost.

– Eva Fuka

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Deep Space

Light Effects

The cobblestones in this picture are a clue to its location. Prague, Czechoslovakia, where Eva Fuka lived and worked when she took this picture, is famous for its cobblestoned streets. Fuka waited to snap the photograph until the woman with the baby carriage was in a position to make the most of the deep space in the scene. Click on the deep space diagram bar above to see it.

The light that creates all the atmosphere in this picture is a difficult effect to achieve. When a light source like the sun shines directly into the lens of a camera it creates exposure problems for the photographer. If Fuka had set her camera to expose for the amount of light coming from the sky, the buildings in the picture would be too dark and all of their detail would be lost. If Fuka set her camera to expose the buildings’ details, the beautiful atmospheric effects of the light might be lost. The solution? Position the camera so the light source is hidden behind a tree, reducing the amount of light shining into the camera. Reducing the amount of light allowed Fuka to expose the film at the setting that produced details in the shadowy buildings and plenty of atmosphere.

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What Makes This Photograph Surreal?

Q: How many Surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

André Breton, in the Surrealist Manifesto:

“I believe in the future transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, of surreality, so to speak.”

–From Chipp, The Theories of Modern Art, 1968.

Surreal effects are often present in photos Eva Fuka made during her early years in Prague. Lost Entertainers is a great example of Surrealist ideas. Surrealism is all about the subconscious, the subconscious as in dreams. You know those dreams where you are in one place, and then suddenly it turns into another place, but it doesn’t seem strange to you while you’re dreaming? That’s surreal. So what is it exactly about this photograph that is surreal? Click on the diagram bar above to find out.
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The poetry of every day life and the extraordinariness of the ordinary are illustrated here.

I love Surrealism. I really do. I like the absurd view and Surrealism is most close to it –to combine things which don’t really go together but yet somehow do anyway because that is the way life is – absolutely absurd.

Eva Fuka, 1999

The edges along each side of this photograph give the impression that the photographer turned a corner and just happened upon this scene. The poetry of every day life and the extraordinariness of the ordinary are illustrated here. Fuka tried to capture these qualities in her photographs as she stamped her individual style onto the larger art movement called Surrealism. “It should be understood that the real is a relation like any other,” wrote a French promoter of Surrealism. “The essence of things is by no means linked to their reality, there are other relations beside reality, which the mind is capable of grasping, and which are also primary like chance, illusion, the fantastic, the dream. These various groups are united and brought into harmony in one single order, surreality . . .” (Aragon, Une Vague de Rêves , 1924)

Strange and uncertain space was a device used by many Surrealists to represent those other relations beside reality. Look at the looming shadow on the building behind the dancing child. Is it a shadow of the statue in the foreground or something outside of the frame of the picture? The relationship between the shrouded old statue and the lively young girl creates a strange mood. Although they are facing away from each other, they are very much together in the space of the photograph. Does the statue threaten the child or offer some kind of protection? These visual mysteries, presenting themselves in everyday life and turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, were themes that fascinated Eva Fuka.

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"If you want me to explain the picture, if you put it in reality, then the mystery goes away."

I was thinking of the word Surrealistic . . . I don’t think it should be used exclusively with my photographs. The meaning is close but I think my tendencies are more toward the whimsical or absurd. Surrealism is more connected with morbidity. From that I am very far away.

– Eva Fuka, 1999

What is happening in this photograph? Such an air of mystery surrounds these figures that we assume something has just happened, and we have happened upon the aftermath of the odd event. The tree at each vertical edge of the photo lends a feeling of peeking through the trees. We are witnesses to, not participants in the scene. The title only muddies the water - how can the three be alone when they are so together?

When questioned about the events in this photo, Eva Fuka protested, “If you want me to explain the picture, if you put it in reality, then the mystery goes away. The situation just catches you and you think it is absurd or mysterious and you just take the picture. You don’t want to see the bare reality of what happened. I took the picture as the picture, not as the realistic story of what happened.” (Interview with Eva Fuka, 1999)

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The true content of a photograph is invisible, for it derives from a play, not with form, but with time. One might argue that photography is as close to music as to painting. . . a photograph bears witness to a human choice being exercised. This choice is not between photographing x and y: but between photographing at x moment or at y moment.

John Berger, The Look of Things, 1974

Taking a picture of people through a gas lamp wouldn’t occur to a lot of photographers, but Fuka saw the lamp’s potential as a container for the people on the street. It looks like an hourglass, and since the people appear to be waiting for something the two ideas work together. A photograph represents a moment in time, adding yet another layer of meaning.

Eva Fuka used darkroom special effects to create this picture. The entire photograph was printed at the correct exposure, then Fuka “burned” in the area outside of the gas lamp to darken it by adding light to the print in the darkroom. Burning and dodging (holding back light from a print) are techniques many photographers use to give different parts of prints different exposures in the darkroom. Fuka took the technique a step further to create an unnatural scene that comments on time.


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Titles are important in the Surrealist work of Eva Fuka…

People ask me who was your idol, who do you copy or was your influence and I never was influenced. I was just doing my own work and didn’t look right or left. That is why I became more original than others, that’s what I think!

-Eva Fuka, 1999

The top rooster in the trio (yes, there are three; look closely) wants to know, who will wake up the day after I am gone? Or are we asking the question? Titles are important in the Surrealist work of Eva Fuka, and she uses them to confuse the issues, make bizarre contrasts, or in this case, put the viewer in the place of the subject of the photo. In Surrealism, everyday objects and events take on additional, sometimes otherworldly, meanings. According to Fuka, this is what real life is all about. On the other hand, she never completely leaves behind her sense of the formal parts of the picture. When asked if the objects in the background of this photo could be read as crosses, Fuka says, laughing, “Oh no, the shape of them reminded me of the feet of the chicken, its claws. That is why I like them there.” (Interview with Eva Fuka, 1999)


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