François Kollar

François Kollar is a magnificent photographer. He produced strong images that possess few histrionics, even less ego. They simply just are.

People quoted in this posting comment that in his photographs “human measure is omnipresent”; that you never loose the sense of scale; that there are “frequent contrasts between near and far, the intimate and the monumental”; that his photographs are “an anthropological investigation into the behaviour, gestures and postures of people at work”; that “Men and women and their functions and roles in the production process are recurrent elements.”

All these statements are true.

Further, his images are sensitive, beautiful, show no traces of any social movements, and little sign of emotion. As Dominique Vautrin observes, “François Kollar is a photographer who resembles his images: somewhat mysterious, beautiful, and discreet…” And as the text from Jeu de Paume states, “He revealed himself to be a temperate photographer, somewhere between the barebones modernism of Bauhaus and a humanist approach to photography.” Other photographers who could fit into this playlist could be Bill Brandt in England, Walker Evans in America and Wolfgang Sievers in Australia.

But what a splendid description – a “temperate photographer”. Showing moderation and self-restraint… there is far too little of that in contemporary photography. A humanist with an avant-garde edge, a photographer whose vision was clear and consistent throughout his oeuvre, who could turn his hand to anything: advertising, fashion, avant-garde, double exposures, solarisation, photomontage, documentary reportage, surrealism, constructivism, modernism.

Joseph Nechvatal comments that Kollar’s work is poignant. This is an incorrect word to describe the work, for the photographs never evoke a keen sense of sadness or regret. They are of a different order altogether. Let me explain.

There is a wonderful stoicism about the people who Kollar chooses to photograph, who inhabit his world of work. The endurance of work without the display of feelings and without complaint. Labour is not represented in any glorified way, not as a noble undertaking, and certainly not heroic (although the worker can be represented as intimate and monumental). The workers are represented as an adjunct to the machine but not in a cyborg fashion. In his photographs there is a distinctness about the worker which sets the human apart from the machine, even as he is “deeply embedded within their functions and roles in the production process.” I don’t believe that people understand this separation, preferring instead to comment on the embedding of the human within machine processes. But something was bothering me when I looked at these images and I have pondered long and hard over how to interpret them. There was something I could not put my finger on and it is this…

In the work of Lewis Hine, the workers are in the present looking to the future. In the work of François Kollar there is no justification for the work it is just work… being there in the present. No ego, no elevation of experience or emotion, and the photographs are just so. Just being in the world. The thing itself. Nothing more, nothing less. It seems simple when you say it like that, but the concept is very complex – to allow the photograph to materialise from consciousness, as a sort of previsualisation of experience – of being a poor, working class immigrant (which Kollar was) picturing his own.

That he achieved such photographs “with his 5 x 7 large-format camera and cumbersome lighting equipment” is a testament to the dedication to his craft, to his work, and to his roots – a connection to the working man and woman. These are honest and forthright photographs of what most humans do for most of their life: work at a job they may not like – to pay the bills, to put food on the table. The lighting is superb, the compositions eloquent, the characters in his images unforgettable (Kollar particularly likes portraits of men shot from below with their arms folded) but it is the balance between the subjective and objective which is so finely honed in his work. The dispationate nature of humans when at work is balanced by the aesthetics of the artist and the humanity of the individual.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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