Miroslav Tichy….photographer and artiste extraordinaire

One of Miroslav’s many cameras

When you first look at this, you may think it’s just a toy fashioned by a child in a kindergarten school class.

But this, and many other such contraptions, have been built by a man whose name I certainly had never heard before, Miroslav Tichy (pronounced “tikki”).

Born in 1926 in Czechoslovakia, where his father worked as a tailor and other as a secretary. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and then returned home, taking up painting and drawing as his main subjects of interest.

Very early on in his adult life, Miroslav decided that the strict rules and regulations that controlled everything and everyone in his country were not for him, and he sought the company of other similar-minded people, all of whom happened to be involved in the art movements, namely Brno Five, a group of painters who broke away from the State-sanctioned regimen, which decreed that all artists were forbidden from drawing or painting nude models, instead replacing female models with men in working overalls! Miroslav and his friends were not having any of that nonsense, so they decided to carry on working on their own terms, in their own, time-honoured ways, which of course drew attention to them from the people running the country.

Because of this, and possibly because of his flouting of public and social etiquette, he was closely monitored by the State as a non-conformist dissident. Soon after, the powers of his country ruled that all dissidents be institutionalised, and it us thus that he was placed in a prison, in his case, a mental prison, as the authorities thought he was a madman.

He was to be thrown into such institutions more than once in his long life.


Miroslav’s workshop equipment

Miroslav’s last days in his cramped 1 bedroom apartment

On those occasions when he was out of prisons, he continued to paint, only stopping to take up his other interest, photography, in the 1960s. Working for an old wooden shed in his garden, he constructed unique, handmade cameras, sometimes cannibalising old junk cameras, but mainly making his own designs up from scratch, using cardboard, wood and lenses that he actually laboriously ground himself in his garden shed!

Not caring about his physical appearance, he walked the streets wearing tattered clothing and long, uncut hair and beard, his crude camera in hand and a strict limit he set himself of no more than 3 rolls of film a day, searching out shots to capture.

Initially he had concentrated on shooting street scenes or landscapes, but for some reason only known to him, he changed abruptly from those subjects to women. If you look at the majority of his photos, you’ll see that all of them depict ladies and ladies’ bodies, in other words, their legs, faces, backsides etc, which today would make him a stalker or worse, earn him a place in any number of police station cells.

But if we instead look closely at his work, you can see a semblance of intuition and drama, where he is trying to tell a story, albeit a story about each woman whom he shoots…..some shots show women talking subversely, some gossiping, and generally sharing private moments of friendship amongst each other. Some ladies struck elegant, deliberate poses for him if they saw him taking their shots, thinking that the cameras he carried were nothing but toys, but little did they know! In my mind, this doesn’t make him a weirdo, but I say that looking at his work, not searching his mind…..some say he was mentally disturbed.

Whatever, it seems that he was well-known in his city, and most likely the locals grew accustomed to his presence and his unorthodox ways, such as appearing at the town swimming baths to take his photos (he wasn’t allowed to go into the swimming baths, so he took his shots from the outside looking in, his lens poked through the wire fence, which you can see in some of his photos, adding a taste of forbidden fruit to his works). The truth is most likely that people regarded him as an eccentric, carrying cameras that obviously didn’t work, being made of materials you can find in any home….old cardboard shoe boxes, cardboard toilet paper rolls, lenses he made himself out of plexiglass and ground with toothpaste and cigarette ash.

His photographs are also totally unique. It is said that he always encouraged people to throw his prints onto the ground and walk upon them. Some of his prints show damaged surface layers, blobs, dried chemical markings…some are dog-eared, torn, scratched, some have their outlines drawn over with pen or pencil. It is things like this that have led some observers to say he had a mental problem. I don’t call it that….just look at the world’s genuises…all of them without doubt had their eccentric mannerisms, so is Miroslav any different?

Miroslav’s work is the main focus ever since he was “discovered” a few years ago. Obviously his subjects are all female, but again, if looked at closely, there is movement, contrast and composition at work in them. Professional photographers sometimes poo-poo his work, saying it’s all out of focus, vignetted, badly composed, bugged by dust inside the camera, poor developing technique and hundreds of other excuses. But in answer to detractors, Miroslav was known to have said “A mistake? That’s what makes the poetry!”

But what about his equipment? If anybody looked at his garden shed-cum-workshop nowadays, you wouldn’t think that cameras and photographic processing was going on there. The workplace was strewn with odds and ends….empty bottles, tins, cardboard, wood, wire, odd sheets of metal.

An example of a typical camera he would make would be a small wooden box, with road asphalt used as sealant to block light entering, a small thin piece of plywood as a shutter, operated by a pulley system using empty cotton reels and dress-maker’s elastic. For a lens, he would sometimes use old spectacle lenses, or as mentioned earlier, cut them out of Plexiglas and grind them himself.

To take some of his shots unnoticed, he used rudimentary but functional telephoto lenses, made them out of cardboard or plastic pipes. And his enlarger with which he produced his prints, was just a few pieces of sheet metal 2 pieces of wooden slats from a fence, a light bulb and a tin can.

Developing and printing was all done very carelessly it seems. He only ever made one print from each negative, and if he liked it, he would paste it onto cardboard, sometimes outlining the subjects with a pen or pencil or adding artistic designs around the photo.

Lacking any room to store his shots, he would stack them together into piles, tie them up, and throw them in odd corners of the space he had, open to rats, mice, insects and his own shoe prints.

So he thus roamed his hometown of Kyjov, taking shots that can only seriously be taken by a person who has an artistic eye.

And it is rather ironic, that a “foundation” sprouted up suddenly when people in high places started admiring the work, a foundation purporting to help arts and support Miroslav and his works. This claim has been emphatically denied by Jana Hebnarova, who grew up with Miroslav as their neighbour. Miroslav’s work was apparently taken from him under the guise of “protecting and preserving” it, by a Dr Roman Buxbaum, another local neighbour……Miroslav was known to be fond of a drink or two, and a few judicious drinks at the right time sealed Miroslav’s signatures on hurriedly-drafted documents allowing Buxbaum to be the only person permitted to hold the work.

Today, in our days of pin-sharp digitallly-perfected images, his work has brought a suddenly refreshing breath of fresh air to the scene, and his shots are now found in many prized collections all over the globe.

Miroslav died in 2011, without receiving a single penny for his work which by then had been shown in the USA and other parts of the world.

Miroslav Tichý – October 2009

“”First of all, you have to have a bad camera..then, if you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.”

Marislov Tichy (1926-2011)….a forgotten genius of our times!


all photos courtesy flickr.com, unless otherwise stated


About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 years...my first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money back...no arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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6 Responses to Miroslav Tichy….photographer and artiste extraordinaire

  1. MartyW47 says:

    Very cool pictures… The guy had the eye…

  2. reocochran says:

    This biography of a real genius and true artistic photographer was amazing! He had a long, full life despite the environment that tried to suppress him. He has wonderful pieces of art in his pictures that are unusual perspectives, interesting use of “aging” the paper, etc. So crazy that you discovered him, thanks for sharing Miroslav Tichy!

  3. reocochran says:

    Oh, I have to backtrack and push the “notify me of follow-up comments” box! This was a very powerful post about a man who used almost nothing (in equipment) to create beauty!

    • hi, robin! thank you very much for taking the time to read that article….i, too was kinda shellshocked when i was first told about the guy…i’d never heard of him before but luckily i have some real good contacts in the industry who let me know about some real gems they pick up along their way!
      miroslav was variously regarded as a pervert, ogler, bum, and a whole lot else, but he was a genius…and as is always the case….he died penniless in a 1 bedroom decrepit apartment, while his work was taken away form him by deception of the highest order, by his supposed best friend!
      do have nice weekend…whats left of it!

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