Jiří Makovec started taking photographs when he was just six years old. “I was attracted to everything about it,” says the Czech photographer on these early years accompanied by a square format camera. He used the medium as a way to look at the world, discovering new purposes or patterns or situations through the lens of the camera. Going on to study film in his birth city of Prague, in 2002, he decided to pursue an ongoing intrigue with America, and moved to the Big Apple, not long after 9/11. “I was curious about how people dealt with such an aftermath, such a crisis,” Jiří tells It’s Nice That. “I was literally sucked into this highly visual and complex place.” He stayed there for eight years, documenting the ins and outs (as well as the highs and lows) of his life at the time.
In 2010, Jiří and his girlfriend, artist Jiajia Zhang, moved to her home town of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The town of around 75,000 inhabitants offered a great contrast to the hubbub of New York, but through photography, he continued to make sense of the world around him. Now currently based between St. Gallen, Zurich, Prague and his beloved New York, Jiří is releasing a new book, From… To… documenting his work from the last 16 years.
Combining highly personal photos of his family, friends, pets and so on, with street and travel documentary from over the past decade and a half, the chronological publication is not so much “a clear series, but more about how to be in the world.” The book, comprising of an astounding 1525 images, provides the viewer with an alternative way to see things, and how to relate to them. For the photographer, the visual diary-cum-archive is not just a poignant insight into his life, but a suggestion of “how to cross social borders by looking a things empathetically, and through that, a new type of narrative can arise.”
When it came to the mammoth task of editing Jiří’s photographs since 2002, the task fell to Jiajia, his primary editor for 11 years. During her artist residency in Zurich last year, together, the couple reflected on his colossal archive, organising contact sheets accordingly and drawing out poignant moments. They decided on an LP cover-inspired layout for the final book, a hint to Jiří’s other jobs as a DJ, as well as his other other job as a filmmaker (the presentation of the images is reminiscent of a filmic storyboard.) Incidentally, in another twist to the story, Jiří’s father was also a photographer and DJ. “I didn’t know him until I was 22 and he was a fairly known photographer in Czech,” he says, so there may be another connection there.
In From… To…, the weaving narrative is a “constant meandering between the highly personal and the universal,” a mode of storytelling influenced by the likes of Jonas Mekas and Libuše Jarcovjáková. The densely packed images flit between strangers on the street, or an intimate photograph of his grandmother for example. In one particularly meaningful image for the photographer, Jiří captures his grandmother after an operation in hospital. “It’s a very emotional photograph for me,” he goes on to say, “and when I first moved to the States, I took some photos just for her, kind of like postcards from somewhere else.”
He hopes the book will inspire people to “go out into the world and see things, people, landscapes and go look at the other.” Though in parts, the extensive series reflects on difficult times when “it was hard to maintain [his] life”, doing several odd jobs, sleeping on couches without much financial security. But all in all, in the end, “it all makes sense to me” says Jiří, “and I hope I can continue my practice in the future. It’s not just a book about about Prague, but all the places I have visited in the last 16 years, and learning to look at where you are is something I would like to share.”
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