Frantisek Drtikol

Frantisek Drtikol (1883–1961) was the first Czech photographer of international importance.

The best known of his many works are the nudes, whose originality, artistry, profundity, and technical mastery remain remarkable. Apart from the portraits, the nudes were the main subject of Drtikol’s oeuvre. He concentrated on them systematically beginning in 1907, when he opened his first studio in Pfiíbram near Prague, and maintained this interest till the early 1930s, when his artwork changed to symbolic compositions of cut-out figures. Drtikol explained his fascination with the naked human body: ‘The words from the Book of Genesis were my inspiration: “So God created man in His own image.” Clearly, man was not dressed for we are born naked. I therefore look at nakedness as God’s work, as native beauty, as the most moral and natural thing. I think people would be freer, easier, and even more beautiful if they lived naked.’

Drtikol’s first nudes were strongly influenced by Art Nouveau and Symbolism. The models were often captured in lyrical poses on a painted background, but the result was exalted scenes with naked women personating biblical Salome. Under the growing influence of avant-garde photography, Drtikol’s style changed radically about 1923. Geometrical decoration and projectedshadows substituted for painted backgrounds, and dreaming models gave way to dancers. The dynamics of composition were intensified; lighting and movement came to play an increasingly important role in his work. Drtikol created the illusion of movement in a number of photographs showing legs stepping forward, and often added to them crossed ropes, long, thick bars and pronounced shadows. These effects were highlighted by the slanted platforms on which the models stood or lay. Frantisek Drtikol was highly inventive in his use of sharp side and rear lights, sometimes to highlight the plasticity of a model seen against massive projected shadows. The erotic assumed an increasingly important role in his nudes, which were quite bold for their time, showing the naked body with surprising naturalness and beauty.