06 On Death, Horses and Other People

Markéta Luskačová’s On Death and Horses and Other People is a labor of love, an exploration of ritual, an expression of friendship and a testament to patience and perseverance. Luskačová began to photograph Czech Carnival in 1999. Since then she has photographed more than 40 carnivals in Bohemian cities, towns and villages. This exhibition is comprised entirely from the photographs made as the carnival people of Roztoky, a small town near Prague, walked across fields and over Bare Hill to the neighboring village of Unětice. Made over a 12-year span, Luskačová’s photographs reveal as much about the artist as they do about her subjects. Trained as a sociologist, it is not surprising that her images are imbued with a special understanding of the people and the rituals she has photographed. Her work is not just a documentation of ritual, but also a sensitive and insightful interpretation of time-honored traditions adapted for contemporary life in Bohemia, where free expression was very difficult in the recent past.

At one level, On Death and Horses and Other People is an extension of her earlier social documentary projects: her examination of the lives of religious pilgrims in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s and early 1970s; her study of the working class beachside resorts on the North Sea in England; or, her lifelong photographic exploration of children. The same sensibility and insight in these projects, that captured the joy and pain of life, the special moment when light and composition fall into alignment with the subject in front of her lens, is also evident in On Death and Horses and Other People.

For Luskačová, Czech Carnival represented ”the renaissance of the old customs in the early years of democracy, the joy that it was now allowed, my private joy to hear the old songs, which I was missing.” She has described this new body of work as ”a return home in a photographic sense, almost a full circle,” where procession figures prominently, as it did in Pilgrims, made 40 years ago. Many of the color photographs were made in that magical short space of time, as the warmth of the late afternoon sun gives way to the coldness of the crisp, late winter night. These photographs represent new aesthetic terrain, while the black and white prints may be seen as a continuation of the aesthetic for which she is known. It is especially lovely to see the transformation that takes place as Luskačová visually dances between her comfortable black and white aesthetic and her new color world; where darkness is eclipsed by color, light and joy, where carnival is seen not only as a return to ritual, but as an affirmation of life itself.

Howard Bossen