What was the starting point of your project and how did it turn into a photobook?
The beginning point of ‘Catharsis’ was when I started experiencing PTSD in the summer of 2019. My childhood trauma started resurfacing back in the form of nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. It became vehemently invasive in my daily life and instead of going for therapy, I decided to confront it by creating a photography project about it.
First, I conducted academic research to see how other photographers are approaching the topic through the medium. Within this research, I analysed the work of Roger Ballen, Joel Meyerowitz and Marta Zgierska which later helped me to start taking pictures myself.
Few months into the project, I realized that I have collected and created a lot of different materials. I also knew that text is very important for the project, so the choice of a book format fits perfectly to combine the variety of materials together. I like the idea that the viewers open the book and enter my world. They flip the pages as if they are reading my mind and they have the freedom to go back to the book whenever they feel like.
‘Catharsis’ seems to be divided into different sections. How did you edit the book?
The book is divided into three main sections where the first introduces the viewer to photographs that blend reality with fiction. I would say they are the atmosphere-setters of the whole book. The second chapter is composed of archival imagery where you can also find childhood drawings and an essay. This segment is mostly based in the realm of the real as the images are from my personal archive. It mainly serves to provide the viewer with context and to connote that something has happened in the past. Lastly, the third part is purely fictional as the images comprising it are representing a certain mental state which is to a large extent detached from the real.
With the edit, I tried to juxtapose the emotional intensity of trauma with narrative elements where past and present intertwine. ‘Catharsis’ is, therefore, structured in the form of a wave where the viewer oscillates between emotional and rational engagement.
In ‘Catharsis’ you use different photographic languages and techniques (staged photographs, archive, still lifes, landscapes, etc). Could you please describe to us your creative process?
The whole creative process was very much instinctive. For instance, I had a lot of strange dreams during this period where certain elements appeared, and I knew I have to include them in the project. Oddly, I had a lot of dreams with biblical animals, such as lambs or snakes. I also drew inspiration from my flashbacks, particularly their fragmentary nature and intensity. In a way, the differences in techniques and visual languages made perfect sense as they represent the abundance of elements that permeated my mind at the time.
In the book, the viewer can find short handwritten quotes and an essay titled ‘When Exhaustion Meets Endurance’ written by you. What is the role of text in the project?
The short quotes and the essay are excerpts from my thesis ‘The Ambiguity of Visual Representations of Trauma’ where I explored the ways in which photography can serve as a suitable medium to represent traumatic experiences. It is a hybrid between an academic research and my personal take on the topic. I included parts of the text in the book in order to provide the necessary context for understanding the work. The text establishes a bridge between the personal and universal experience of trauma. Since the photographs are relatively abstract, the text gives them meaning.
I find it particularly interesting how you use the human body to convey trauma. An Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce considered catharsis as “the supreme moment of poetic intuition”, I think that statement captures your work very well.
Yes, you are right. Since the project stems from my personal experience with trauma, using the human body was the first thing that came to my mind. So, indeed, the way I am working with the human body in the project is a form of my poetic intuition when sharing my story. Trauma is closely associated with a wound that has been inflicted upon both the body and mind. Such experience sometimes requires one’s consciousness to metaphorically escape one’s body in order to survive. This is also one of the many reasons why traumatic memories are fragmented and often appear in the form of vivid flashbacks that tend to occupy the victim’s mind. In my photographs, I focus on this otherworldly experience and visualize the state of a body as a mere prop in the space where consciousness escapes it.
The book contains childhood drawings. Could you explain the reason for including them?
When I was in the final phase of creating this project, I was originally meant to travel to my home country, the Czech Republic to finish the last images there. This was in March and at that time, the first wave of COVID-19 started spreading in Europe. Consequently, my flight was cancelled, and I had to undergo an “intelligent lockdown”, as they call it here in the Netherlands.
I tried to figure out how to approach ‘Catharsis’ from a new perspective so that I could complete the project. I decided to work with my personal archive and in this way, bring the Czech Republic here to the Netherlands.
I called my mum via Skype and we went together through all family photo albums that could be found at our home. After I selected the photographs, she showed me a series of childhood drawings I did when I was six years old on the camera. When I saw them, I was immediately struck with the way they look. I find them strange, funny and uncanny at the same time. Each face in the drawing has its own state and expression.
In the book, I decided to include a portrait of my dad, two drawings of monsters and a letter to “Ježíšek” (Czech version of Santa Claus). The drawings represent the notions of childhood naivety and imagination. They embody something that is not possible to replicate anymore. Hence, they are unique entities from the past that resonate in the present time.
One chapter is separated by a graphic image of a pig being sliced in half while a small child is standing in front observing the scene. It is the only violent image in the whole book, why did you decide to include it?
The concept of a wound and a physical imprint on a body is crucial in ‘Catharsis’. I chose only one graphical image because the fact it stands alone makes it stronger. The way the audience is observing with laughter and joy how the pig is being sliced in half is a brutal way to represent the moment of trauma, the contrast between the victim and the perpetrator, the pain and pleasure…
‘Catharsis’ is going to be published in December 2020/January 2021 and is currently available for pre-order here.